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The FDA: Can Americans trust TV commercials about drugs?

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Do TV commercials about prescription drugs tell the whole truth?  Do some have too much detail, frightening away those who need the drugs and confusing others who tune out the long lists of side effects the commercials include?  Even worse, do some deliberately avoid mentioning dangerous side effects to attract patients who end up paying the price for their deadly omissions?

The answer to the last question is yes.  Some TV commercials have masked potentially fatal side effects in a cascade of attractive images, music and testimonials.  The manufacturers of Pradaxa, Xarelto and Eliquis are now being sued after patients, who took the three blood thinners, suffered fatal hemorrhages.  Their relatives say they never knew the highly-touted drugs had no antidotes.  There was no specific mention of that in the commercials.

Instead, the commercials stressed the “freedom” they afford patients who no longer must have almost weekly blood tests at doctor’s offices, as they do on Warfarin, the only blood thinner on the market for more than 50 years.  Nor do they have to follow the special diet that Warfarin requires.

A commercial for Xarelto features champion golfer Arnold Palmer enjoying that “freedom” on a golf course with NASCAR driver Brian Vickers and comedian Kevin Nealon.  All have a history of blood clots, according to the commercial, necessitating the use of Xarelto.

Since Pradaxa, Xarelto and Eliquis arrived on the market, 8,000 deaths have been linked to the drugs, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, and more than 58,000 people have suffered life-threatening hemorrhages.

There is a limit on what the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) can do about TV commercials and other ads about prescription drugs.  Its website states that it is not allowed to review commercials before they air.  That means the public can see “ads that violate the law” before the FDA does.  And it cannot bar drug companies from “advertising any kind of prescription drugs, even ones that can cause severe injury, addiction or withdrawal effects.”

Nevertheless, the FDA is out to “make the ads clearer and drive home the most important safety risks…”according to a story in The Chicago Tribune.  It says the federal agency is considering new guidelines for TV commercials and other ads.  It believes all the warnings in current commercials “overwhelm and confuse” consumers, making them much more likely to ignore risk factors.

Under the proposed FDA guidelines, the ads would keep the “Black Box” warnings (the most serious) but commercials would no longer have to “rattle off…. every possible side effect.”  Critics fear drug companies would then “accentuate the positive and ignore the negative,” misleading consumers.

Wayne Wright lawyers can assist those hurt by drugs with unclear or hidden side effects.  No one should be a victim of fraud when their wellbeing is at stake.  Prescription drugs are an important part of the lives of many Americans who need them to maintain their health.  Our lawyers can help those who have been misled by false claims of benefits in TV commercials that ignore the peril of certain drugs.

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