Study: psych drug ads made unsubstantiated claims

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Drug companies either would not or could not provide sources to substantiate half of claims made in journal ads for psychiatric drugs and devices, according to a study published in The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease

The study looked at claims made in 69 journal ads that ran in four titles – Archives of General Psychiatry, The American Journal of Psychiatry, The New England Journal of Medicine and The Journal of the American Medical Association – in 2005. Of those, 53 made promotional claims deemed relevant to the survey – 327 claims, in total. Thirty-eight ads provided at least one attainable source that could be used to check the veracity of at least one claim found in the ad, the study said. But of all 327 claims made, only 45% provided an initially attainable source, and another 5% could be substantiated by sources provided by the manufacturer upon request. Of claims related to the drug's efficacy, the largest number of claims, 53% were supported by an attainable source. 

The study's authors mailed requests for substantiating data on claims made in 29 ads to nine companies and received replies from only three. “One of which provided a summary of results from various studies, one of which provided three journal article reprints and one of which provided a letter denying information on the basis that it was against company policy to provide such data,” they wrote. 

The study's main author, Glen Spielmans, an assistant psychology professor at Metropolitan State University in St. Paul, MN, told the blog Pharmalot: “Physicians frequently read medical journals - at least we hope they do. Market research says they do. And we know physicians can be influenced by an ad. So, if they're going to prescribe, perhaps based in part on advertising, we hope the advertising is accurate. But when claims are made that aren't supported, the impression created is overly optimistic. It's possible that the claims are true, but because data wasn't reported and isn't easily obtained or verified, we don't really know.”   

Spielmans, who says he's skeptical of many psychiatric meds, previously authored a study on advertising for Eli Lilly's Cymbalta which found some claims misleading, Pharmalot noted.
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