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Tracking the Drug Facts Box

The pharmaceutical industry spent over $5 billion on direct-to-consumer (DTC) advertising for prescription drugs in 2007—over half the entire U.S. Food and Drug Administration's budget for that year, according to a study by DMS physician-researchers Lisa Schwartz, Steven Woloshin, and H. Gilbert Welch. According to another study, average American television viewers spend more time watching DTC ads—up to 16 hours per year, or two and half minutes per day—than they spend with their primary care physician. The ads are full of information about risk factors and side effects, but they include little data on how well a drug works, say Schwartz, Woloshin, and Welch.

To help people better understand how a drug helps or harms, the DMS team created the "drug facts box" which includes data based on clinical trials. The DMS team is working closely with the FDA to have the box appear on all prescription drug print ads and package inserts. One feature they are planning to include will indicate if clinical trials for a drug have been consistent.

As of mid-June, as the Summer 2009 Dartmouth Medicine went to press, U.S. Senators John "Jack" Reed and Barbara Mikulski proposed legislation to Congress asking for the drug box to be adopted by the FDA.

For more on the drug facts box, including a national study, see "Drug info boxes contain 'just the facts, ma'am'", and "Patients deserve data about drugs." For more on the DMS team's work, see "Authors aim to bring clarity to health statistics."


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