Tuesday, August 11, 2015
Paternalism vs. Free Speech at the FDA
Over time, that paternalistic control of information has crumbled away. Prescription drug makers have become some of the biggest advertisers on television and the internet, creating a large job market for actors who know how to look miserable but hopeful. Limits on what the companies say are also eroding. Just last week another federal court struck down another FDA limit, this one a rule saying that companies could not reveal the result of drug trials to doctors until they have been evaluated by the FDA. The court ruled that as long as it is being truthful, a drug manufacturer can reveal preliminary studies about so-called "off label" uses of prescription drugs.
How you answer depends, I think, mainly on how you feel about advertising in general. One strain of American populism has always hated ads, sure that they are all lies and just make people want things they don't need. Many of these people subscribe to Consumer Reports, which especially delights in revealing which high-end products are actually worse than the cheap versions. If you follow this school, you probably think that ads for drugs just spread dependence on drugs and enrich the owners and executives of drug companies, at no benefit and possibly great harm to the rest of us.
But it is also possible to see drug ads as getting a lot of useful information out to the public, and perhaps inducing people who could really use medical help to seek it. Maybe it is a good thing for depressed people to be reminded that there are now a lot of different drugs they can try, one of which may help them.
Maybe I'm not taking all those ads full of suffering people seriously enough, but I honestly don't see any great harm.