Prescription drug ads have prompted nearly one-third of Americans to ask their doctor about an advertised medicine, and 44% of those who have talked to their physician about an advertised drug received a prescription for that medicine, according to new research.

Moreover, 54% who asked about advertised medicines in 2006 received a prescription for another recommended drug, with some getting a prescription for both, which means a total of 82% getting a prescription for the drug they asked about and/or another one, compared with 75% in 2005, says the study, which was conducted in January by the newspaper USA Today, the Kaiser Family Foundation and Harvard University School of Public Health.

The US Food and Drug Administration first allowed direct-to-consumer prescription drug advertising in 1997, and industry spending on DTC hit $4.8 billion in 2006, up from $2.6 billion in 2002. The results of the new study show “why the drug companies run all these ads – they work,” said Drew Altman, chief executive of the Kaiser Family Foundation. “Many people get drugs they otherwise wouldn’t. While there’s a debate about whether that’s a good thing for the patients, it does cost the country more,” he added.

The researchers point to other studies, including one conducted by the Government Accountability Office in 2006, which concluded that drug advertising has contributed to overall increases in spending on both the advertised medicines and on other drugs which treat the same condition. For every dollar spent on advertising, sales increase by an average of $2.20, it added.

The survey, which examined a wide range of consumer attitudes towards prescription drugs, also found that, at 47%, more US adults have a favourable attitude to the pharmaceutical industry than those who do not (44%). People who regard the industry favourably do so for reasons such as its research and the quality of medicines; 73% of those polled said that prescription drugs developed over the last 20 years have improved the lives of Americans, with 63% reporting such improvements in their own and their families’ lives.

Nevertheless, drug prices are at least “somewhat” of a problem for the families of 41% of US adults responding to the survey, with 29% saying that cost issues have meant them failing to fill a prescription in the last two years, and 23% saying they have skipped doses or cut pills in half to make the treatment last longer.

Nearly eight out of 10 of those polled described the cost of prescription drugs as “unreasonable,” while seven out of 10 felt that drugmakers are too concerned with profit and not enough about helping people. Moreover, 64% believe there is not enough government regulation to limit drug prices.