A new website has been launched through which consumers are encouraged to tell the US Food and Drug Administration that direct-to-consumer advertising of prescription drugs should no longer be allowed.

The agency began its current examination of the effects of DTC with a public hearing November 1-2, 2005, held, it said, because there was sufficient experience of DTC to understand what regulatory issues may need to be addressed in new FDA activities. As part of this process, the agency is accepting public comments on the issue until February 28.

The StopDrugAds.org web site has been set up by advocacy group Commercial Alert, which says it is not the proper role of drug executives to tell US consumers what medicines they should buy. “In effect, drug companies are practising medicine without a license, and that should be illegal,” said Commercial Alert’s executive director, Gary Ruskin, adding: “we’ve got to halt prescription drug advertising before the next Vioxx tragedy happens.”

A Commercial Alert statement presented at the public hearing calling for a ban on DTC was endorsed by 211 US medical school professors, plus two former editors-in-chief of the New England Journal of Medicine.

Drugmakers spent over $4 billion in 2004 in “an onslaught of advertising” but, rather than promoting public health, DTC increases drug costs and the number of unnecessary prescriptions, “which is expensive to taxpayers and can be harmful or deadly to patients,” the statement claimed.