Psychologist Glen Spielmans of Metropolitan State University, St Paul, Minnesota, and colleagues analysed adverts aimed at medical professionals in four prominent US journals – including the New England Journal of Medicine, one of the most widely-read journals in the world.
42 out of the 53 ads (nearly 80 per cent) the researchers examined made at least one claim the team couldn’t substantiate. 27 made a claim that was not supported by the data source cited by the ad. A further 15 contained claims that couldn’t be verified by the team – usually because the ads provided no sources of data to back up their claims, or made claims that could not be verified because drug firms either failed to respond to the researchers’ requests for trial data, or refused to supply it.
“The sources are provided by the companies themselves, so it’s pretty easy to cherry pick one study that backs up their claim,” Spielmans told Chemistry World. “Despite that, many of the cited sources did not support the advertising claims.”
Spielmans says his findings contradict the pharmaceutical industry’s contention that drug ads serve to educate doctors about the benefits and risks of drugs. “Education would typically be based on evidence,” he notes. “If it’s not based on evidence, it’s not education.”
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