On average, 80 commercials for prescription drugs are aired every hour on American television, according to the Nielsen company. The figure is impressive and the United States is the only country with New Zealand to allow these ads.

However, this type of marketing is relatively recent as explained by Nathan Arnold, press officer at the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the authority that regulates these communications: " Direct-to-consumer advertising (distributed to the general public instead of to health professionals) is a new field of prescription drug promotion ". Until the mid-1980s, the pharmaceutical industry promoted its drugs directly to doctors and pharmacists.

There were still some "direct-to-consumer" ads, but the Food and Drug Administration had not formulated clear rules for them. From 1983 to 1985, Congress called for a moratorium on this type of advertising, questioning its legitimacy and requiring at the end of this period of reflection that advertising to consumers meet the same requirements as those for doctors.

Several executives in the pharmaceutical industry did not support this type of marketing. But their opinion changed very quickly. This shift made by pharmaceutical companies would be contextual according to an article published in the journal Pharmacy and Therapeutics in 2011: "During the 1980s, the political climate became more favorable to the pharmaceutical industry. In addition, a cultural change has occurred, causing patients to take an active role in medical decision-making with their doctor. "

The commercials only arrived gradually. The US Food and Drug Administration initially required that all adverse effects be displayed, which was possible in magazines but more difficult on television or radio. However, pharmaceutical companies had the right not to mention the risks of the drug if they did not say what disease it had to treat … The first television commercials were then rather strange.

In 1997, the US Food and Drug Administration clarified its instructions: television ads should contain the most serious side effects and refer to another advertisement (in which all the risks were mentioned) or to a telephone number. In 2004, the money spent on these ads quadrupled.

In 2009, the American Medical Association (AMA), a group of doctors, published a forum for these ads to be banned. For its president, Patrice Harris, " the multiplication of spots boosts the demand for the most expensive molecules, although there are less expensive and equally effective alternatives. It also encourages patients to demand the latest and most expensive drugs, while they are not always appropriate. "


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