Bitter Pill Awards bash DTC 'offenders'

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Consumer group Community Catalyst announced its second annual Bitter Pill Awards, skewering the makers of Ambien, Lunesta and Strattera, among others, for what it deems to be irresponsible marketing practices. 

The group wants a return to pre-1997 disclosure rules, which would effectively wipe out consumer ads. Earlier this month, Community Catalyst called for an FDA ban on drug coupons. The group also wants the FDA to be granted greater resources and the power to leverage monetary penalties on non-compliant companies.

Jerry Avorn, MD, a Harvard Medical School professor, author and industry critic who sat in on the conference call announcing the awards, said DTC costs doctors valuable time with patients and introduces an adversarial cant to the doctor-patient relationship. “Asking how DTC can go on in a responsible way is a little like asking how wife beating can go on in a responsible way,” said Avorn. 

This year's honorees included:
  • Sepracor and Sanofi-Aventis with the “While You Were Sleeping Award” for their Lunesta and Ambien campaigns. 
  • Pfizer and AstraZeneca with the “Got Cholesterol” campaign for Lipitor and Crestor, which Community Catalyst pronounced “me-too drugs.”
  • Lilly with the “Driven to Distraction Award” for Strattera, which a spokesman for the group said “promoted a product designed to help consumers who are highly distractable by distracting them.”
  • PhRMA with the “Fox Guarding the Henhouse Award” and the “Truth Is Stranger Than Fiction Award” for its DTC guidelines and an aborted publishing venture, respectively. 
  • MedVantx, which offers doctors samples of generic drugs, with the “Real Deal Award.” 
The stunt by the Boston-based group netted write-ups by Reuters, UPI, The Boston Globe and The Indianapolis Star.

The awards coincided, as did last year's, with the DTC National conference. 
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