Direct-to-consumer advertising (abbreviated as DTCA) refer to the promotion of the sales of the prescription drugs by increasing public awareness about the pharmaceutical products through magazine, internet, newspaper, and television marketing. Several pharmaceutical drug producing companies and their distribution outlets put much emphasis on the extensive use of DTCA as the only tool of marketing. In this quest, the pharmaceutical companies and their distribution outlets produce and widely distribute promotional materials such as videos, bronchures, outdoor exhibitions, branded pens, t-shirts, and attractive caps. According to the findings of a recent survey conducted by World Health Organization (WHO), pharmaceutical companies spend approximately 60% of their revenues towards direct-to-consumer advertising.
There are several controversies surrounding DTCA in promotion of the prescription drugs to the patient groups and medical professionals. The pharmaceutical companies argue that direct advertising educates the general public about the availability and usefulness of the drug to their lives. Nevertheless, medical practitioners and other drug licensing and regulatory authorities denounce the practice on the ground that the practice would definitely expose the general public to the potential harm of the uncontrolled usage of the said prescription drugs. Even though DTCA is a common place in United States of America and New Zealand, the practice is prohibited in other parts of the world particularly across the continents of Europe and Australia.
The reality of DTCA has sparked off a lot of uproar in the public domain. The proponents maintain that intensive advertisement of the prescription drugs to the general public is of great good to their health and that the duly created awareness guarantee improved medical care to the entire population. On the other hand, the critics insist that such DTCA is an outright abuse of the media to market pharmaceutical drugs through unscrupulous advertisements. The existence of these opposing arguments makes is very difficult to determine whether DTCA is truly an unethical or ethical practice in the medical field. This paper attempts therefore to investigate the morality of the DTCA in the modern world.
2.0 Merits Associated with DTCA
The DTCA is a commonplace in the United States of America and New Zealand and the regulatory authorities controlling public consumption of the pharmaceutical products allow for the advertisements of the drugs in the said countries. Many pharmaceutical firms market their prescription drugs on the mass media such as magazines, newspapers, medical journals, leaflets, flyers, bronchures, and electronic media. The drug producing firms target patient groups and other category of healthy citizens in the advertisements.
According to the claims of these drug producing companies, the popularization of the prescription drugs create awareness among the general public on the existence and availability of different drugs as well as the benefits of these drugs. The producers maintain that proper knowledge about these drugs will improve public health considering that masses of the population are fully informed about the drugs and the corresponding symptoms, diseases, and illnesses they treat. As such, the common citizens are relieved of the burden and exorbitant expenses involved in seeking clinical assistance from professional physicians. As a result, marketing of the prescription drugs reduces the costs of healthcare in the countries where they are in place.
Considering the healthcare benefits people accrue from the DTCA, the question of whether the practice is ethical or unethical is out of place. The consequential approach supersedes just the mere virtue of denouncing the act based on the principle of morality. In this situation, the widely perceived immoral direct-to-consumer advertising is highly permissible and to larger extent deemed moral. The judgment is entirely based on the standards of rationality formulated by Kant commonly referred to as the imperative categorical.
3.0 Dangers Associated with the DTCA
In another perspective, there are several dangers arising from the marketing and subsequent promotion of the prescription drugs through direct-to-consumer advertising- a phenomenon that has led to its disbandment in many parts of the world with an exception of New Zealand and United States of America. The prospective threats and dangers direct-to-consumer advertising of prescription drugs pose to the general public outweighs the benefits by far.
To begin with, “most of the advertisings are attractive in nature but does not bear right information necessary for the safety of the general public” (Agero & Hanns, p. 123). In their 2007 medical journal, “Impact of direct-to-consumer advertising to the public health”, the two researchers observe that most of the pharmaceutical firms often lure the public to buy and consume their products without proper education on their safety. The authors lament the fact that the drug producing companies and their respective retail outlet/stores use attractive models and celebrities to lure the consumers into buying the drugs. As a result, the marketing strategy simply encourages people to increase their levels and frequency of drug consumption- an event that causes addiction, substance dependence and intoxication.
In a separate count, Clarke is categorical that virtually all drugs are made of synthetic and other natural products that are strongly poisonous in nature but the drug producing companies put their emphases on product branding, sales promotion and sales promotion rather than creating awareness on the potential harm of excessive drug use, consumer education and protection. It is a common observation that typically all direct-to-consumer advertising does not indicate any unpleasant side effects of the drugs or any kind of danger associated with its excessive use. Suffice it to say, the pharmaceutical companies have proven to be very irresponsible as far as consumer protection and drug safety are concerned.
In facts and figures, incidences of deaths directly linked to ignorant use of prescription are on the rise from the year 2004. The medical experts largely attribute this trend to direct-to-consumer advertisings more so on the toxic drugs that require monitored clinical administration done by trained professional medical practitioners; average citizens without any background in clinical pharmacy would not fully understand the implications of drug use in human health hence they should not be targeted by the drugs producer in their sales promotion drives. To make matter worse, lack of an overseeing body to regulate the routine practices of the advertising in the pharmaceutical industries further aggravate the extent of loss of human lives across the world. Statistics from the 2004 Word Demographic Survey reveals that close to 1.89 deaths in the year 2004 was caused by irresponsible usage of prescription drugs across the world.
4.0 Is DTCA Ethical or Unethical?
According to the regulations of the medical practice, it is unethical to advertise prescription drugs in the media. It is most notable that the primary motive behind direct-to-consumer advertising is the need to promote the consumption of a particular prescription through enticing and attractive mechanisms. The pharmaceutical firms, retail stores, and marketing agencies concentrate wholly on how to increase sales but adamantly neglect other aspects of public safety and consumer protection. Other claims that it helps reduce the cost of healthcare services to the public is inconsequential.
Fully aware of that the main objective of the DTCA is to promote sales of drugs among the people by increasing levels of prescription drug use and consumption, the argument that that practice is beneficial to the entire civil population is very flimsy. DTCA is associated with neglect of public health safety, loss of human lives, miscarriages, incidences of intoxication, drug dependence and addiction. These undesirable elements of DTCA grossly violate the standards of rationality otherwise termed as Categorical Imperative.