Wednesday, March 20, 2013

TV Ads for Statins Drive Overdiagnosis and Overtreatment According to Study

The United States is one of only two countries, the other being New Zealand, that allows drugs to be advertised on TV, and it’s not difficult to understand why nearly every other country has given such ads the boot.

As with all commercials, the ads are intended to influence you to buy their products. In the case of prescription medications, the “product” is a potentially dangerous chemical drug that is loaded with side effects.

In a 2009 Harris Poll, 51 percent said that drug ads encourage them to ask questions when they go to their doctor, and a whopping 44 percent actually believe drug ads make them more knowledgeable about treatments for their ailments.

Now, a new study assessing the effect of direct-to-consumer drug advertising has concluded that TV ads for statins may be a driving factor of overdiagnosis of high cholesterol and overtreatment with the drugs.1

The reason is clear. People who dutifully ask their doctors about a drug advertised on TV usually end up receiving a prescription...

Is it any wonder then that one in four Americans over the age of 45 is now taking a statin drug, despite the fact that there are over 900 studies proving their adverse effects, which run the gamut from muscle problems to diabetes and increased cancer risk.

TV Ads for Statins Drive Overdiagnosis and Overtreatment
To determine the relationship between estimated exposure to direct-to-consumer advertising for statin drugs and two clinical variables: diagnosis with high cholesterol and statin use, the featured study, published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine,2 used logistic regression to analyze repeated cross-sectional surveys of more than 106,000 Americans, merged with data on the frequency of ads appearing on national, cable, and local television, between 2001 and 2007. Interestingly, those who reported seeing statin ads on TV were:
  • 16-20 percent more likely to be diagnosed with high cholesterol
  • 16-22 percent more likely to be using a statin drug
That’s quite a boost in diagnosis and treatment, and proof positive that advertising works, even when you’re selling something with greater potential harms than benefits, as is the case with statins.
Tellingly, both the diagnosis of high cholesterol and increased statin use was driven almost exclusively by those who were at LOW risk for future cardiac events, indicating that overdiagnosis and unnecessary drug treatment is quite real. Conversely, those at high risk of heart disease were not more likely to be taking a statin after seeing the commercials. According to the authors:
"Our findings raise questions about the extent to which direct-to-consumer advertising may promote over-diagnosis and over-treatment for populations where risks may outweigh potential benefits. In addition, we found no evidence of favorable associations between exposure to statins in television advertisements and statin use among those at high risk for future cardiac events."
 

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