Taking on Big Pharma by Ending Direct-To-Consumer Advertising

11/04/2017 09:32 am ET

Last week, the New York Metropolitan Transportation Board voted to ban alcohol ads on subways and buses. I applaud the Board’s leadership and call upon them to support my legislation (A07401A) banning all ads promoting pharmaceutical drugs, including synthetic opioid and pain management drugs, from public transit facilities.

The evidence is irrefutable; Americans have been living in communities consumed by pharmaceutical drugs and are now dealing with an opioid overdose epidemic. Many of my colleagues have identified and addressed at least one key factor in this crisis – the over prescription of drugs by health professionals – and called on doctors to curb their prescribed dosages to patients.

However, we have failed to curb the endless marketing and advertising of these same drugs and pills to the public; through television, the internet, billboards, and our public transit systems.

In the past, the federal government has tried to take on Big Pharma and ban this kind of Direct- To-Consumer (DTC) advertising, which allows companies to bypass qualified doctors and market their drugs directly to consumers. Big Pharma won that battle through endless lobbying before ultimately succeeding in court, citing the 1st Amendment. This has left the United States as one of only two developed countries in the world that still allows DTC advertising.

Whether we realize it or not, the ads we see all around us have a powerful and often subconscious impact, pushing millions to seek out drugs they do not need. Those who are already suffering or struggling with recovery do not need the constant imposition of more and more drugs claiming to be the next big solution.

Over the past twenty years, Big Pharma and big ad agencies have made billions through DTC advertising. It’s no surprise these companies are willing to spend millions finding officials willing to go on record claiming DTC advertising does not lead to drug, or deny its connection to our current opioid crisis.

But common sense proves otherwise.

In just five years, unintentional drug overdose deaths in New York have jumped 66 percent. New York City alone has seen its number of overdose deaths increase for six consecutive years; in 2016, the city had a record 1374 overdose deaths, nearly 50% more than the previous year. In 1992, the average American received seven prescriptions a year. By 2009, that number had jumped to twelve – a 71% increase. And these deaths are not limited to New York City. Some of the counties in Long Island and the Southern Tier – MTA rail corridors – have been hit hardest.

Instead of curbing their production, Big Pharma is maximizing their DTC advertising efforts to market and sell more drugs. Today, it’s opioids, tomorrow it could be something else. My legislation would put New York in line with almost all developed countries in recognizing the dangers of DTC advertising and its detrimental effect on the public.

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