Your Health

Most People Notice Drug Ads, But Few Get Prescriptions Because Of Them

If you haven't seen or heard an ad for prescription drugs lately, then you really haven't been paying attention.

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hide captionWhat do you think of drug advertising?

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Drugmakers spent $1.2 billion on ads during the first quarter of this year, up 3 percent over the same period a year ago, according to data from Kantar Media.

But, we wondered, what do people make of the ads? And how often do the ads motivate people to ask for medicines by name?

The folks at Thomson Reuters agreed to help us find out, and last month they asked more than 3,000 people in the U.S. about drug advertising. Here's what we found out.

Nearly two-thirds of Americans say they've seen, heard or received some kind of advertising for a prescription drug in the last six months. People who made more money and those with the most education were a little more likely to say they'd been exposed to an ad.

So what did they do about it? Overall, about 8 percent of the people who were exposed to ads say they influenced them to ask doctors for specific drugs.

And did their doctors give them what they wanted? Not usually. Only a little more than a third of the time — or 36 percent — did people get prescriptions for the drugs they wanted.

When it comes to drug ads "at least one-third of people aren't hearing them or tune them out," says Dr. Ray Fabius, chief medical officer for Thomson Reuters' health care and science business unit. After that, he says, the data show doctors serve as a significant filter on those ad-driven requests.

And how fair are the ads? A little more than half the people surveyed say the ads properly balance the information about risks and benefits. Nineteen percent said risks were overemphasized, and 27 percent said the benefits were overplayed.

The Food and Drug Administration isn't so sure the TV and radio ads are doing the best job on balance, so the agency is proposing some new rules. The Wall Street Journal's Health Blog rounds up the ideas and some of the comments here.

The margin for error in the Thomson Reuters survey, conducted during the first two weeks of June, is plus or minus 1.8 percent. You can see the questions and detailed results here.

We also asked people about ads for dietary supplements. That post is here.

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