Doctors influenced by mention of drug ads, study says

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Actors posing as patients with symptoms of stress and fatigue were five times as likely to leave doctor's offices with a prescription after they mentioned seeing an ad for Paxil, according to a study published today in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).
As part of the study, researchers sent actors with fake symptoms and hidden tape recorders into the offices of 152 doctors in three cities between May 2003 and May 2004 to see if they would get prescriptions.
The actors who did not report symptoms of depression were not given medications, but when they asked for Paxil, 55 percent were given prescriptions and 50 percent received diagnoses of depression. The study also found that although DTC ads helped patients with a stigmatized illness such as depression get treatment, they might also prompt overmedication of those who did not need treatment. 
"It's a haphazard approach to health promotion that is driven primarily by the pharmaceutical industry's interest in turning a profit," Matthew Hollon, an internist at the University of Washington in Seattle told The Washington Post. Hollon wrote an editorial accompanying the study in today's JAMA and, along with researchers who conducted the study, said ads should be tempered by educational messages funded by a tax on the industry and better doctor training or by a moratorium on ads for new drugs until their risks are fully known.
Nancy Leone, a spokeswoman for Paxil maker GlaxoSmithKline, said it was difficult to draw conclusions about the new study because Paxil was not being heavily advertised during the study period.
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