As part of a review of the Medicines Act, the Ministry of Health has been consulting on whether the law should continue to allow medicine advertising – or Direct-to-Consumer Advertising (DTCA).

And now a Consumer NZ survey shows a majority of Kiwis want advertisements for prescription medicines to be banned.

Consumer NZ head of research Jessica Wilson said New Zealand and the US were the only two countries in the developed world that allowed direct-to-consumer advertising of prescription medicines.

Consumer NZ’s survey found 57% of Kiwis supported a ban on medicine advertising in favour of an independent health information service that could provide advice about treatment options.

Fifteen percent thought drug advertising should continue.

“Our survey also shows many consumers don’t think these ads are giving them the full picture,” Wilson said.

Only eight per cent strongly agreed that medicine ads provided unbiased and comprehensive information about treatment.

Many were sceptical about the motivations drug companies had for advertising. Fifty-nine percent strongly agreed companies were likely to spend the most money advertising medicines that gave them the most profit.

While most consumers had a negative view of this advertising, one in eight said an ad had prompted them to ask for a prescription medicine from their doctor or other health professional. Of those, 45% got the prescription they requested, while 21% received a prescription for another medicine.

Wilson said medicine advertising increased the risk of unnecessary prescribing.

“These ads sell the promise of a quick fix. However, the best option isn’t always popping a pill. Other treatments or lifestyle changes may be more effective in some cases,” she said.

The Royal New Zealand College of General Practitioners is pleased with the survey results.

College President Dr Samantha Murton says the College has been advocating to remove DTCA since 2017.

“Our members have expressed their concern about pharma companies targeting and influencing patients via their advertising campaigns,” says Dr Murton. “GPs are concerned that patients will seek out products that are not appropriate or necessary, because they have been exposed to persuasive advertising.”

“However, this survey, which shows 57% of Kiwis support banning drug advertising, confirms that patients are also wary of the potential negative implications of such activity,” she says.

Earlier this year the College made a submission on the Draft Therapeutic Products Bill, strongly encouraging the Government to prohibit DTCA.

“There is significant research showing that DTCA is harmful to patients and the doctor-patient relationship,” says Murton.

“In some cases, patients have requested a more expensive drug, after having seen it advertised, when a more generic, funded brand would be just as good.

“We are pleased to see that there is public support for the banning of DTCA and we will continue to advocate on behalf of our members, and their patients, on this issue.”

Professor Les Toop, GP and University of Otago, Christchurch researcher takes the same view.

He says New Zealand is out of alignment with all other developed countries (excluding the US) which prohibit such advertising directly to the public.

“Decisions on medication that can influence long-term future health for better or for worse should be based on an understanding of evidence, realistic expectations and advice tempered with experience, not advertising spin.

“The misleading method of marketing our most powerful and potentially most harmful medicines should be banned. The Consumer NZ poll, provides confirmation of strong and growing public support for a ban, and is timely.  At the moment, a rewrite of the therapeutic products legislation (including the current Medicines Act) is nearing its conclusion.

“This presents a once in a generation opportunity to bring New Zealand in line with all similar countries by banning DTCA.”

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