Washington Post Examines Concerns Over Potential Misuse Of Prescription Drugs Caused By Advertisements

The Washington Post on Tuesday examined concerns raised by critics about prescription drug advertisements “taking something that is within normal bounds and labeling it a disease needing pharmaceutical treatment.” The Post profiles recent GlaxoSmithKline ads for Requip, a medication approved by FDA last year to treat restless legs syndrome. According to critics, some “fidgety people who simply have a hard time sitting still or twitch a little in their sleep will receive the inappropriate diagnosis of a serious neurological condition requiring treatment with a powerful prescription medication,” the Post reports. GSK spent about $27 million on ads for Requip as a treatment for RLS in 2005, and sales have increased from $97 million to $146 million since FDA approved the medication for that use. According to the Post, critics maintain that the increase in sales indicates potential misuse of Requip, possibly because of the “vague definition” of RLS in the ads, and “researchers say it is surprisingly easy for patients to persuade doctors to prescribe medications, especially for unfamiliar conditions.” A three-month supply of Requip costs about $169, and the medication can cause nausea, dizziness and daytime sleepiness. Lisa Schwartz of Dartmouth Medical School said, “The ordinary experiences of life become a diagnosis, which makes healthy people feel like they’re sick,” adding, “We are increasingly turning normal people into patients.” However, some neurologists and patient advocates have praised the ads “for raising the profile of an underdiagnosed, undertreated condition,” the Post reports. Georgianna Bell — executive director of the Restless Legs Syndrome Foundation, which receives about $450,000 from GSK — said, “There’s still people out there who have the condition and don’t know that they have it. It’s a serious condition. Raising awareness is important. It can help a lot of people” (Stein, Washington Post, 5/30).

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