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Pharmaceutical Advertising Declines

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Pharmaceutical Advertising Declines

If you think you have seen fewer advertisements for pharmaceutical companies recently, it is not your imagination running wild.  New research has found that advertising for pharmaceutical companies has fallen recently after peaking in the mid-2000s.

Researchers found that pharmaceutical advertising peaked in 2004, but has declined by 25 percent since 2010. That decline equals out to $27.7 billion and was seen mainly in the field of industry promotion to physicians. Spending on overall pharmaceutical advertising to consumers has fallen at a similar rate, but stayed centered on a number of specific products.

Overall, the number of pharmaceutical products promoted to providers reached a high of 3,000 in 2004, but has declined by 20 percent since 2010.  Despite that, free samples and physician detailing represents 70 percent of promotional spending. Additionally, spending was composed of consumer advertising and marketing through journal ads, e-promotion and conferences aimed at physicians.

"There have been important changes in the pharmaceutical marketplace during the past decade, including changes in the types of therapies being brought to market as well as an overall aging of the drugs with FDA approval," said G. Caleb Alexander, senior author of the study and an associate professor with the Bloomberg School’s Department of Epidemiology and co-director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Drug Safety & Effectiveness. "Since pharmaceutical promotion can influence demand for drugs and affect physician prescribing, it is important to know how drugs are being marketed and promoted."

The researchers also found that promotions within the offices of physicians have remained consistent, despite decreases in spending elsewhere. Additionally, Internet marketing and advertising on electronic media represents less than 2 percent of overall marketing spending, showing that older forms of promotion reign supreme in marketing these products. 

"There has been growing concern about the conflicts of interest introduced by physicians' relationships with pharmaceutical companies, but the data show that physician detailing and the distribution of free samples is still the dominant form of drug promotion," said Rachel Kornfield, who co-authored the research with Julie Donohue and Ernst Bernd. 

The research was published the February issue of the journal PLOS ONE.

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