In brief: How advertising affects prescriptions

In brief

How advertising affects prescriptions

Advertising prescription drugs directly to the public on television has become big business, and its effects are being contemplated with apprehension or satisfaction. Advocates say the ads are educational and encourage the use of effective treatments that would otherwise be neglected. Critics say the commercials lead to overprescribing — use of drugs that are too expensive, not appropriate, or risky.

Many physicians would say that the issue is moot because they do not allow television programming or advertising to affect their practice at all. An experiment by researchers at the University of California, Davis shows that, at least in the case of antidepressant drugs, the skeptical doctors are probably wrong.

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