Consumer Reports, long a critic of drug advertising, recently introduced a new feature on its website: AdWatch. In the first episode, an Associate Editor picks apart the claims made in an ad for GlaxoSmithKline’s (NYSE:GSK) drug, Requip. The ad pitches Requip as a treatment for “Restless Legs Syndrome,” or RLS. RLS, while a real condition, has been massively overhyped by ads for drugs such as Requip. (For an excellent discussion of this, see “Giving Legs to Restless Legs: A Case Study of How the Media Helps Make People Sick” in the free journal Public Library of Science – Medicine) Requip is a drug that was originally used for Parkinson’s Disease.

Here’s Consumer Report’s very clever and thorough deconstruction of the ad:

John Mack reports on the Pharmaceutical Marketing Blog that this critique angered folks at the Restless Legs Syndrome Foundation. Guess who’s a major sponsor of this alleged consumer group? Why, GlaxoSmithKline, of course, the maker of Requip! Here’s what John Mack wrote about this today:

However, CR does have a HUGE readership that I can only dream of! As a result, its attack on Requip drew the attention of the Restless Leg Syndrome Foundation, the supposedly grassroots patient advocacy group with suspicious monetary and corporate ties to GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), the marketer of Requip (see posts cited above).

The RLS Foundation issued this clarion call to its “members”:

“We wanted to apprise everyone on our mailing list of some bad press for RLS. We want to encourage you to ‘fight back’.

“A video on promises ‘relief from restless legs hype.’ The RLS Foundation is taking a tough stand against this type of bad press for RLS.

“Click here to watch this extremely sarcastic and insulting video for yourself. Then, click here to read the RLS Foundation’s response to this video.

“The RLS Foundation is calling for drastic measures to respond to this video. We aren’t concerned that they are reporting on a drug. We are concerned that they are mocking a condition that so many people live with everyday. We encourage you to respond to this advertisement immediately. If you are a subscriber of Consumer Reports, we encourage you to cancel your subscription….”

Here’s a link to the copy of the RLS Foundation’s letter to Consumer Reports.

We applaud Consumer Reports for its new AdWatch feature and for examining the Requip ad. While RLS is a real condition and some people will get relief from drugs such as Requip, the shameless overmarketing of it through ads like this is enormously harmful. The purpose of drug ads is to expand the market for the advertised drug, to convince as many people as possible that they need a particular drug, even if they don’t actually need it. Since 2005, we have been calling attention to and critiquing particularly troublesome drug ads through our Bitter Pill Awards: Exposing Drug Company Manipulation of Consumers. We’re glad to be in the company of Consumer Reports in our efforts.