FDA Seeks To Limit List of Drug Risks on TV Ads

By Paul Gaita 02/19/14

The lengthy and often comical list of adverse side effects that concludes many television commercials for prescription drugs may be a thing of the past.

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May cause heart attack, stroke, and death...
You'll be fine.

The Food and Drug Administration will launch a study that will determine whether the list of side effects for advertised medication can be shortened while still providing useful information to consumers. The FDA is concerned that the length of some risk lists may cause viewers to tune out from the ads, which can reduce their comprehension of the drug and in turn make them more susceptible to harmful side effects.

A 2012 study by researchers at Kansas State and Michigan State indicated that many adults  – most notably those over the age of 50 – pay little attention to warning labels on prescription drug labels, which account for the more than 15 million medication errors that occur each year in the United States. The FDA’s study, which will be conducted via the Internet, will ask more than 15,000 participants to view and comment on four different versions of a television ad for medication. The first ad will present a list of risks similar to those heard by viewers on current TV spots, while each subsequent ad will reduce the amount of information included in each ad, from mention of “additional risks” to a shortened list that addresses some but not all of the risks involved in the advertised drug.

The entire study will take each participant 30 minutes to complete. The FDA’s plan comes on the heels of a similar announcement made in January about an overhaul for nutrition labels on packaged foods that will give greater emphasis and more clarification to calories, sugar content, and serving sizes.

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, Amazon.com and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.