The controversy surrounding prescription drug advertising is immense. Advocates for prescription drug direct-to-consumer advertising (DTCA) claim that it educates consumers, improves the quality of care and contributes to better patient adherence. While opponents argue that it leads to inappropriate prescribing and portrays non-medical problems as treatable medical illnesses.

Thanks to a new paper calling for stricter federal regulation of DTCA, the policy debate over the practice is certain to intensify even more. Soon to appear in the American Journal of Public Health, the study suggests that while there are some benefits stemming from (DTCA), there are significant risks that are magnified by its prominence.

"American television viewers see as many as 16 hours of prescription drug advertisements each year, and the reality is that these ads are not doing a good job of helping consumers make better decisions about their health," said Dominick L. Frosch, Ph.D., assistant professor of medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles and lead author of the study. "If the pharmaceutical industry isn't willing to change the ads to make them more useful to consumers, Congress should consider passing legislation that will regulate the ads to improve the information provided in order to help patients make more informed choices."

The authors claim that the evidence clearly shows there is significant risk and potential harm associated with the current format of prescription drug ads. The majority of ads fail to provide enough information to allow consumers to clearly identify whether the advertised drug is right for them. The over dramatization and emotional portrayal of a drug's benefits can also be misleading to consumers, while the message about its risks are often diluted by contradicting imagery.

In conclusion, the researchers recommend a number of proposals they believe will improve DTCA. They suggest that ads should provide accurate information about the potential benefits of the advertised drugs, and should help consumers judge those benefits by providing precise, quantitative information.

Additionally, the ads should state how the advertised drugs compared to placebo or other available treatments, including generic drugs. Furthermore, they should provide specific information about the potential risks associated with drugs without visual or audio distractions.