World Consumer Rights Day
Consumer movements unites against unethical drug promotion
Consumers are largely unaware of how their drug consumption choices are being shaped by corporate motives for gargantuan profits.
For world consumers rights day (WCRD) 2007, Consumers International and its member organisations around the world are calling on national governments to put an end to unscrupulous marketing practices by the pharmaceutical industry.
The many forms of drug promotion: Drug promotion can take on many forms. Overt ways of plugging new product lines are common place, but we are increasingly seeing more subtle, inconspicuous forms of promotion. On the face of it, these methods might not seem to be promoting a product at all.
Fuelled by profit: Drug companies are moneymaking corporations just like any other; they exist to create a profit. The overarching aim of corporate drug promotion, therefore, is to increase profits by raising consumer demand for pharmaceutical products. This approach fuels unethical drug promotion in several ways. The most common violations include:
*Promoting misleading or false claims about a drug.
*Deliberately suppressing risks and side effects of a drug.
*Providing financial incentives to doctors for prescribing a drug to consumers.
*Using disease awareness campaigns for drug promotion rather than health promotion.
*These methods can ultimately lead to irrational drug use by consumers, with potentially fatal health risks.
Who checks to make sure drug promotion is ethical?
The unfortunate answer is... Predominantly the drug companies themselves.
The evidence: Consumers International's 2006 report, Branding the Cure, provides clear evidence that industry self-regulation does not protect consumers against unethical and sometimes illegal drug promotion tactics. For example, there were 972 confirmed breaches of the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry's (ABPI) code by the 20 biggest drug companies between 2002-2005. More than 35% of these breaches had to do with misleading drug information.
Drug marketing can be dangerous to your health. Drug companies will often say that they are providing a valuable information service and raising vital awareness about health matters. But the reality is that their unethical drug promotion methods can have serious implications for consumer health and safety. For example, the pharmaceutical company Merck suppressed information about cardiovascular side effects associated with taking the drug Vioxx, despite having information about these risks at least four years before the drug was eventually taken off the market. The company spent US$160 million annually on marketing this drug. Vioxx caused between 88,000 - 140,000 cases of heart disease in the US alone.
WCRD 2007 is part of the long-term campaign to tackle Unethical Drug Promotion. The purpose of this global campaign is to:
1. Hold industry accountable for compliance with global codes for ethical drug promotion.
2. Hold governments accountable for rigorous enforcement of regulations on drug promotion in order to uphold consumer rights to safety and information.
3. Improve consumer access to credible, reliable and transparent drug and health information.
Source: Consumer International.