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EDITIONS
 Monday, 6 January, 2003, 04:40 GMT
Drugs companies accused over adverts
There are strict rules on drug advertising
Drugs companies have been accused of using misleading information to sell their products.

A study published in The Lancet suggests some companies make false claims in advertisements targeted at doctors.

Researchers urged doctors to be cautious when it comes to prescribing drugs on the basis of advertising.

There is a code of practice that the industry operates throughout Europe

Brian Ager, EFPIA
Dr Salvador Peiro from the Valencia School for Health Studies examined all ads for antihypertensive and lipid lowering drugs published in six Spanish medical journals in 1997.

These drugs are used to treat patients with high blood pressure and high cholesterol respectively.

Each of the ads had at least one reference to a study, suggesting that the claims were backed up by research.

Little evidence

However, Dr Peiro found that claims made in 44% of the 102 ads examined were not backed up by evidence.

He suggested that the findings should encourage doctors to think twice before prescribing drugs on the basis of an advertisement.

"Doctors should be cautious in assessment of advertisements that claim a drug has greater efficacy, safety or convenience even though these claims are accompanied by bibliographical references to randomised clinical trials published in reputable medical journals and seem to be evidence-based," he said.

That view was backed up by experts in the United States. In an accompanying editorial, Robert Fletcher from Harvard Medical School in Boston urged doctors to take personal responsibility for their prescribing decisions.

"Readers should not take claims in journal adverts, with or without credible-appearing references on face value," he said.

"Regulation of advertising claims is not strong or consistent enough to protect readers from misinformation. But then, neither should readers accept the conclusions of original research uncritically."

He added: "Readers must still take personal responsibility for judging the validity of assertions especially those made in adverts."

Code of practise

Brian Ager, director general of the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations said companies were required to comply with a code of practise when it comes to advertising drugs.

"There is a code of practise that the industry operates throughout Europe. This sets out a code of practise for companies. The idea is to ensure that there aren't abuses."

Speaking to BBC News Online, he added: "If parties believe there has been an abuse then they can make a complaint on a national level.

"We monitor these complaints and draw up an annual overview so that we know what is happening."

Heather Simmonds, director of the UK's Prescription Medicines Code of Practice Authority, told BBC News Online problems with advertisements were rare.

"Companies are ruled in breach of the code of practise. But this is quite small in comparison with the total volume of advertising that is published in the UK.

"Companies also spend quite a lot of time and energy ensuring their advertisements are accurate."

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