Direct-to-Consumer Drug Advertising from a deontological point of view
Direct-to-consumer advertising or DTC advertising refers to the mode of marketing that involves mainly medical products. The primary targets of direct to consumer advertising are the patients rather than the healthcare experts or other stakeholders. DTC advertising is regulated by the Food and Drugs Administration agency that sets out the annual revised guidelines for pharmaceutical drug promotion. The most common forms of DTC advertising feature on radio, TV, print and other forms of media. Currently, only the United States and New Zealand have legalized DTC advertising. DTC drug advertising had experienced various scandals in USA, such as in 2004 when Vioxx was withdrawn from the market, after safety alerts were issued over its consumption.
The Kant approach toward direct-to-consumer drug marketing, seeks to understand the intentions of the pharmaceutical companies and to determine if their actions are pure. These companies have two motives in engaging in DTC marketing: one, to market their products and two, to maintain constructive discussion about the drugs with the patients and doctors. These two motives already show a conflict of interest as most of the information is designed not to inform but to sell. The Kantian model stresses the importance of the ability to reason and freedom. The advertisements cunningly lie to the consumers by manipulating their thoughts and hiding the truth about the drug. These companies also aggressively market drugs for non-life threatening diseases such as flu while the drugs for chronic illnesses such as cancer, malaria and AIDS are carefully concealed from the public eye (Arfwedson 14).
The main argument against allowing the uncontrolled airing of DTC advertisements on the media is that, they influence sick people to select various brands of medicine that they may not need medically. Most of the advertisements are normally done by professionals and not medical practitioners who understand the consequences of their speech. A cholesterol drug advert hosted by the drug company, Pfizer, recommended patients to take the drug even though each sick patient had their own unique complications. These adverts prompted patients to diagnose themselves that may be fatal for them later. The advertisements can also be sometimes misleading as the drug may not necessarily be able to cure the disease.
Although direct-to-consumer marketing of pharmaceutical drugs is packaged as trying to increase the levels of consumer knowledge among patients, the real intention of DTC advertising is to drive choice among consumers. The drug companies typically attempt to drive the choice of consumers towards expensive brands of drugs. Consumers were most likely to be given a drug if the mentioned it by name. In the modern economy, the medical practitioners are more inclined to provide consumers with the medicine that they demand instead of advising on the best drugs to take. The real culprits in this chain however, are the pharmaceutical companies who persuade doctors to market their drugs (Norris 67).
The implementation of direct-to-consumer drug advertising in New Zealand and the United States alone goes a long way in illustrating the delicate nature of this marketing. These two countries have some of the highest rates of literacy that means that a large part of the population can understand the risk, benefits and consequences of DTC drug marketing. The two countries are also economically sound which means that the consumers have the purchasing power to support the market niche. Lastly, both New Zealand and the USA have strong agencies that are responsible for the safe administration of the DTC drug advertising.
A section of medical practitioners and economists has argued that direct-to-consumer drug marketing increases the burden on the taxpayer unfairly. The aggressive marketing of expensive drugs directly to consumers has increased the amount of purchases made by sick people. The issue of the increased cost of acquiring medical assistance has also been covered within the current USA healthcare plan proposed by Obama. The new plan receives most of its funds from schemes such as the direct-to-consumer drug advertising and therefore, even the new Obama government may not be ready to reform the regulations controlling DTC drug advertising. The citizens of the US and New Zealand may continue suffering in the hands of the private medical sector.
Direct-to-consumer drug advertising has also exposed consumers to many pharmaceutical products that may not necessarily be approved by the FDA. DTC drug marketing has introduced new products such as fillers and gels that had undergone approval deliberations by the FDA. However, in the private medical domain, the usage of gels and fillers in cosmetic surgery is a common procedure despite the cancer risks associated with including such substances into the body. Direct-to-consumer advertising has therefore promoted off-label uses that expose the patients to more medical complications. Individuals and organizations are bound to do what is morally right in spite of the consequences. Modern doctors have instead placed economic priorities as the key guiding factor in their profession (Brekke 145).
The advent of direct-to-consumer drug marketing can be said to have contributed greatly towards the overall economies of USA and New Zealand. From the time of inception of DTC drug advertisement, the health sectors in both countries have witnessed increased income from the purchase of drugs by patients. This increased income can be used by the government to improve the living conditions and health standards in the countries that will translate into lower mortality rates, infection rates and increased life expectancies. Using this argument, the DTC approach to bringing more pharmaceutical information to the consumers can be argued as being highly moral and economically beneficial (Mintzes 76-9).
Arfwedson, Jacob. Who Wants to Know? Direct-to-consumer Advertising and Patient Information. S.l.: Center for Medicine in the Public Interest, 2008. Print.
Brekke, Kurt R. Direct to Consumer Advertising in Pharmaceutical Markets. , 2005. Accessed on 31 August 2012. Retrieved from http://heb.rokkan.uib.no/publications/files/87-Notat09_03.pdf
Mintzes, Barbara. Direct-to-consumer Advertising of Prescription Drugs in Canada: What Are the Public Health Implications? Toronto: Health Council of Canada, 2006. Accessed on 31 August 2012. Retrieved from http://www.healthcouncilcanada.ca/tree/2.38-hcc_dtc-advertising_200601_e_v6.pdf
Norris, Rebecca L. The Effects of Videographics and Information Delivery Style on Attention and Recognition in Direct-to-Consumer Prescription Drug Advertising. Columbia, Mo: University of Missouri-Columbia, 2008. Accessed on 31 August 2012. Retrieved from https://mospace.umsystem.edu/xmlui/bitstream/handle/10355/5757/research.pdf?sequence=3