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Prescription drugs spilled on table
Research report
7 August 2019

Majority support banning medicine ads

Consumer NZ survey finds most Kiwis want drug company advertising to end.

A majority of Kiwis want advertisements for prescription medicines to be banned, a Consumer NZ survey shows.

Consumer NZ head of research Jessica Wilson said New Zealand and the US were the only two countries in the developed world that allowed direct-to-consumer advertising of prescription medicines.

“We’ve been calling for these ads to be banned because they don’t provide consumers with good information and they increase the risk of medicines being overprescribed,” Ms Wilson said.

Consumer NZ’s survey found 57% of Kiwis supported a ban on medicine advertising in favour of an independent health information service that could provide advice about treatment options.

Just 15% thought drug advertising should continue.

“Our survey also shows many consumers don’t think these ads are giving them the full picture,” Ms Wilson said.

Only 8% strongly agreed that medicine ads provided unbiased and comprehensive information about treatment.

Many were sceptical about the motivations drug companies had for advertising. Fifty-nine percent strongly agreed companies were likely to spend the most money advertising medicines that gave them the most profit.

While most consumers had a negative view of this advertising, one in eight said an ad had prompted them to ask for a prescription medicine from their doctor or other health professional. Of those, 45% got the prescription they requested, while 21% received a prescription for another medicine.

Ms Wilson said medicine advertising increased the risk of unnecessary prescribing.

“These ads sell the promise of a quick fix. However, the best option isn’t always popping a pill. Other treatments or lifestyle changes may be more effective in some cases,” she said.

As part of a review of the Medicines Act, the Ministry of Health has been consulting on whether the law should continue to allow medicine advertising. Ms Wilson said Consumer NZ will be providing the results of its research to the ministry and Minister of Health David Clark.

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