CHC Executive Director Criticizes EU Ban on DTC

Oct. 14, 2011 – The European Commission’s announcement this week that it has adopted a proposal to maintain the EC’s current ban on consumer advertising for prescription drugs may have been expected, but it has industry experts in the United States scratching their heads.

European Commissioner for Health John Dalli offered this rationale for the ban in a statement: “Patients are increasingly interested in learning more about the medicines they take. And more and more patients want to have a say in how they are treated. However, the information they are obtaining today in printed form or on the Internet is very diverse and often not reliable.”

To “protect patients from undue promotion” while also allowing them to benefit from “this knowledge of the manufacturers,” the EC proposals “set out strict rules on the information that companies may provide on prescription-only medicines to the public,” Dalli said, while also making it clear that direct-to-consumer advertising “is – and remains – strictly forbidden.”

With consumers

around the globe using the Internet and other media to help them understand and research their medical conditions, the continued EC DTC ad ban seems like a major step in the wrong direction, said John Kamp, Executive Director of the Coalition for Healthcare Communication.

“No wonder the EU is teetering on the edge of bankruptcy,” Kamp said. “EC regulators still think they can help patients by limiting the information provided by drug companies while the snake oil sales pitches from others proliferate. How does that help patients?” he continued. “The U.S. Supreme Court decision in IMS v. Sorrell makes me glad to be an American.”

Under the ban, originally issued in 2008 in response to requests from the European Parliament regarding increased consumer use of the Internet to search for drug information, “only certain information on prescription-only medicines,” such as use instructions, clinical trial data and price, are permissible.

This information also must meet certain quality and evidence-based standards, be unbiased and be verified by regulatory authorities. The updated proposal does allow information on prescription drugs to be disseminated through “limited channels of communication,” such as “officially registered internet websites.”

Opponents of the 2008 ban had asked for the EC to consider the needs of the patient. Peter Pitts, president and co-founder of the Center for Medicine in the Public Interest, told the Coalition for Healthcare Communication that patients need to become increasingly engaged in their prescription drug choices, and demand more information, not less.

“Slow and steady does not always win the race. In this case, the race to improve the public health [calls for] more regular and robust patient education via active participation,” Pitts said.

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