US Senate majority leader, Bill Frist, stepped up the pressure on pharmaceutical companies’ advertising procedures on Friday, calling for a ban on the direct-to-consumer advertising of new prescription drugs for the first two years they are on the market.

“In recent years, spending on direct-to-consumer advertising of prescription drugs has skyrocketed,” Mr Frist said in a statement. “This advertising can lead to inappropriate prescribing and fuel prescription drug spending… But research evidence indicates that this blitz in direct marketing has unwittingly led to inappropriate prescribing, which most importantly can compromise patient safety and care.”

As well as asking drug makers to voluntarily halt DTC ads for drugs during their first two years on the market, Mr Frist has also petitioned the Government Accountability Office to anaylse the US Food and Drug Administration’s oversight of prescription drug advertising, the pharmaceutical industry’s spending on such advertising, and the potential impact on utilisation, healthcare spending, patient education and awareness. “Failure to appropriately monitor and regulate direct-to-consumer drug advertising compromises the safety of the very patients we intend to help,” he added.

Bristol-Myers Squibb has already said that it will be implementing a new advertising policy that will see it wait at least a year before advertising new medicines directly to consumers [[15/06/05e]]. The Industry has come in for some stinging criticism for its advertising policies, with some claiming DTC ads minimise some of the risks associated with prescription drugs. The American Medical Association is also planning further study the DTC issue, because of concerns over the effects these advertisements have on the doctor-patient relationship as well as healthcare costs [[23/06/05c]].