Says self-regulation will not protect consumers from dangers of deceptive advertising

Boston, MA, July 22, 2005. The Prescription Access Litigation Project (PAL), a national coalition of over 100 consumer organizations fighting against illegal drug company practices, today criticized PhRMA’s “preliminarily approved” voluntary guidelines on direct-to-consumer advertising.

After months of speculation about the content of the guidelines, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), the trade and lobbying association for the drug industry, released a vague description of its forthcoming guiding principles, saying only that they had been “preliminarily approved” by its Board of Directors. The guidelines, the final details of which will not be released until next month, are merely voluntary, with each drug manufacturer deciding whether to adopt them.

“We believe that vague ‘voluntary guidelines” won’t do anything meaningful to curb deceptive drug advertising,” said Alex Sugerman-Brozan, director of PAL. “As long as drug companies can ‘choose” whether to comply, it will be a race to the bottom with consumers losing out.  What’s needed is real enforcement and oversight, not a feel-good PR measure designed to mollify the public without committing to any real change.”

The pharmaceutical industry now spends over $4.2 billion per year on Direct-to-Consumer Advertising of drugs on TV and radio, in magazines and newspapers, and on the Internet.  In the wake of last year”s withdrawal of Merck’s blockbuster painkiller, Vioxx, the drug industry has been widely criticized for its out-of-control advertising. 

“Vioxx is the poster child for the dangers of drug advertising,” said Sugerman-Brozan. “The TV ads with Dorothy Hammill convinced over 20 million people to pay top dollar for Vioxx, even though most of them would have done just as well with over-the-counter ibuprofen. Now the same industry that brought us the Vioxx disaster is saying ‘just trust us’ when it comes to reining in drug marketing.”

Earlier this month, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) called on the drug industry to restrict ads for a minimum of two years following approval of a new drug. A Wall Street Journal/Harris Interactive survey released yesterday showed that a majority of Americans support forbidding ads for new drugs for some period of time after FDA approval, with more than twice as many supporting a mandatory ban over a voluntary one. The PhRMA guidelines, however, will only call for “conversations with physicians prior to the launch of a new direct-to-consumer campaign,” according to PhRMA’s announcement.  

The Prescription Access Litigation Project has been in the forefront of the fight to control deceptive drug marketing. Consumer groups in the PAL coalition have filed numerous cases against drugmakers, alleging that the companies’ deceptive advertising of their drugs has resulted in consumers overpaying for drugs they often don’t even need.  PAL cases have challenged the marketing of some of the biggest blockbuster drugs of the past several years, including Nexium, Vioxx and Celebrex.

In March of this year, PAL hosted the “Bitter Pill Awards” in which it issued mock awards to drug companies for spending billions of dollars each year on DTCA but failing to tell the truth about these drugs.  Awards included:

  • The Performance Anxiety Award: For Exploitation of Male Fears of Inadequacy (awarded to the makers of Viagra, Cialis and Levitra)
  • The Speak No Evil Award: For Concealing Drug Risks and Exaggerating Benefits in the Name of Profits (awarded to the makers of Vioxx and Celebrex), and
  • The Least Extreme Makeover Award: For Dressing Up an Old Drug with a New Name and a New Price Tag (awarded to the maker of Nexium).

For more about PAL and its deceptive advertising cases, go to and click on “Lawsuits & Settlements”, or click here. For more on the Bitter Pill Awards, click here.

About Prescription Access Litigation Project
Prescription Access Litigation Project (PAL) is a project of Boston-based Community Catalyst. PAL is a nationwide coalition of over 100 senior, consumer, labor and health advocacy groups in 35 states fighting to make prescription drugs affordable. PAL’s coalition has a combined membership of over 13 million and includes national organizations such as the AFL-CIO, AFSCME, Medicare Rights Center, Alliance for Retired Americans, and state chapters of the PIRGs and Citizen Action. Since its launch in 2001, PAL member groups have filed 23 sets of lawsuits targeting drug industry practices that illegally push the price of prescription drugs beyond the reach of the American consumer.

About Community Catalyst
Community Catalyst ( is a Boston-based national advocacy organization that builds consumer and community participation in the shaping of our health system to ensure quality, affordable health care for all.