Doctors and Drug Companies

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This letter appeared in the Boston Globe on May 22, 2007:

Your May 14 editorial "Side Effects in the Senate" calls for a two-year moratorium on direct-to-consumer ads on new drugs as part of a so-called firewall "between the public and potentially dangerous drugs." However, any drug is dangerous when it is not prescribed appropriately or not taken according to the doctor's instructions. What your editorial ignores is that before the patient is exposed to any adverse drug effect, both the Food and Drug Administration -- in determining that the drug is safe and effective -- and the patient's physician -- who writes the prescription -- have come between the pill and the patient. No doctor worth his or her stethoscope would be cowed into prescribing an inappropriate drug merely because a patient saw an ad for it on TV.

Also, there are educational benefits to the consumer from learning about new treatments from such ads, which are always accompanied by a caveat to "ask your doctor" or a number to call for more information.

Finally, the First Amendment protection of free speech, including commercial speech, guarantees not only the right to speak but the public's right to hear. The Waxman-Markey bill to be considered in the House calls for an even more Draconian three-year ban on ads for new drugs. Hopefully, it will meet the same fate as the failed Senate provision, for the good of public health.

Dr. Gilbert Ross
Executive director
The American Council on Science and Health
New York