PhotoIf you watch television at all, you can't help but see a large number of commercials for prescription medications. But since doctors are the only ones who can really decide whether that medication is used, isn't spending millions of dollars on TV ads a waste of money?

Apparently not, or else they wouldn't be doing it. So what's the real motivation? Obviously it is to prompt consumers to mention specific drugs to their doctors.

In 2009 Congressional Democrats tried to place some restrictions on direct-to-consumer prescription drug advertising. Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) called on the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to bar prescription drug ads until they have been proved safe in real world use.

A consumer’s take

Dee, a consumer from Playa Del Ray, Calif., thinks the ads are harmful.

"Not only are the drug companies instilling psychosomatic symptoms in many Americans, they are unnecessarily educating our children on prescription drug availability and usage," Dee wrote in a post on ConsumerAffairs. "Fifty million of us do not even have access to medical insurance, so who are they really pushing their drugs to? And why not OxyContin and Cocaine? This is an issue of greed and ego. Depression, erectile dysfunction, sleep aids, RA, etc, etc should all be discussed on an individual basis in the privacy of your doctor’s office, and NOT on national television."

It's a debate that isn't likely to go away anytime soon, as pharmaceuticals are a multi-billion dollar industry, and the U.S. is one of only two nations that allows direct-to-consumer prescription drug advertising.

FDA's position

The FDA's position is different from Dee's. The agency sees some benefits from the ads.

"Prescription drug advertisements can provide useful information for consumers to work with their health care providers to make wise decisions about treatment.," the FDA said on its website.

For example, a product claim ad names a drug, the condition it treats, and talks about both its benefits and risks. A reminder ad gives the drug's name but not the drug's use.

However, if you think a prescription drug ad violates the law, contact FDA's Division of Drug Marketing, Advertising, and Communications.

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