Almost two-thirds of US doctors favour a moratorium on direct-to-consumer advertising, with half supporting a one-two year wait before manufacturers can begin promoting new drugs in that way, according to a new study.

The poll, conducted by TNS Healthcare, contacted over 1,000 physicians and 251 consumers, and of the latter group, 44% agreed with doctors over a DTC moratorium, while 47% have not yet made up their minds. As for the physicians, there are differences among specialties as three-quarters of cardiologists support a moratorium, while only 55% of neurologists think it is a good idea.

Of the doctors who are in favour of a hold on DTC for new drugs, an overwhelming 85% believe it should apply to all new drugs, regardless of therapeutic class. Consumers show similar results, at 82%. The vast majority of physicians (81%) see public safety as the top benefit of a moratorium and the US public (89%) seems to strongly agree, with 89% of consumers citing the same reason as the top issue driving their moratorium support. Interestingly, almost 60% of both doctors and the public also agree that such a move would give doctors a chance to gain important experience with a drug before patients start requesting it.

Neither physicians nor consumers believe the US Food and Drug Administration is doing a good enough job policing DTC, the study found. When asked the ways in which the FDA is not doing an adequate job, about 60% of both groups said that current ads are misleading and/or contain exaggerated claims. Almost half of both doctors and the public feel that broadcast ads do not contain enough information about risks and side effects, while more than 60% of physicians, but just 43% of consumers say current ads are unclear and lead patients to request inappropriate drugs.

“Providing any new legislation is not onerous, a moratorium of a reasonable length may be beneficial in improving the public’s trust in the pharmaceutical industry and in DTC advertising,” says David Kweskin at TNS. “With a waiting period in place, consumers will come to understand that only drugs that pass the test of time will be advertised”. He added that

“in a sense, a moratorium can serve as an ‘extended drug trial’—and, once the moratorium expires, both physicians and consumers are likely to feel confident that the product is truly proven to be both safe and efficacious”.