Last week ‘Times of India’ had an antibiotic drug advertisement on its front page & it was quite surprising to see a prescription only drug advertisement in a mass media. Mankind pharma had advertised its price reduction of its Amoxycillin, Cefixime & Cefpodoxime drugs with a safe statement of ‘for medical professionals only’.
It was surprising because the advertisement was not for normal OTC drugs but they were antibiotics which need to be used with proper medical advice. The obvious questions were ‘Is it correct to advertise prescription only drug in mass media?’ , ‘ Is Indian market matured enough to have these advertisements in mainstream media?
If we turn around & see, very few countries like US & New Zealand allow advertising prescription drugs in mass media. However, these countries have a very stringent pharma channel management and governance which gives very less chance for abusing prescription only drugs. FDA and other regulatory bodies have adopted very strict & long approval policies which create almost a foolproof method to avoid a non approved drug getting marketed & also the pharmacies and other point of sale units maintain proper records which will help to track the origination of prescription and other details. The policies also mandate the ads to contain complete information of the drug including the side effects, risks and other warnings.
In spite of all these strict governance policies in place we have witnessed many instances of exploitation of mass media advertisement by many pharma companies. In one of the studies done by Barbara Mintzes & et al., it was observed that many heavily-advertised drugs in Canada have had been subjected to safety advisories! Just to mention Canadian policies allow a ‘reminder’ form of advertising for prescription only drugs.
But if we look at the Indian scenario, market is not regulated to extent where there is a control over how drugs get dispensed, it is quite easy to get almost any drug in pharmacy & also self medication is quite normal practice which gives high chances for drug abuse. Given this situation I feel it is quite appropriate to question this advertisement.
In this advertisement, though company has used a statement ‘for medical professionals only’ & also I suppose, company might claim that it is not direct to consumer ad but in reality, media in which this has been advertised is not just focused to medical professionals and does not guarantee that it will reach ‘only ’ medical practitioners. In a way the advertisement is in direct to consumer ad format with highlighting only the price reduction. No wonder in future if companies take up campaigns with big brand ambassadors promoting their high specialty prescription drugs with just a line of caution ‘for medical professionals only’!!
I am sure there is also a school of thought that strongly recommends direct to consumer pharma advertisement but point of contention at the moment is ‘do we have the right infrastructure to do this?’…