Pharmaceutical companies are trying to police so-called "bad drug" ads, starting in Tennessee. The state legislature is advancing a bill that would restrict advertising meant to recruit people harmed by medication or medical devices.
The legislation (HB0352/SB0352), which was approved by the Senate Health Committee last week, targets dramatic ads like this one about blood thinner Xarelto or another about diabetes drug Avandia. The bill is sponsored by Sen. Richard Briggs, R-Knoxville, who is a surgeon.
"We really think that there needs to be some transparency about who is putting the ads on and what they can put there," Briggs said in a committee hearing.
A new umbrella group representing pharmaceutical and medical device lobbying efforts, called the Partnership to Protect Patient Health, announced a nationwide campaign in December to regulate ads that seek plaintiffs in class-action lawsuits. Organizers said they'd start in states deemed sympathetic to their cause while also working on members of Congress.
Pharmaceutical companies and medical device manufacturers, whose own ads are subjected to intense regulation, want some rules for law firms looking for plaintiffs, including:
- Requiring the ad to conspicuously display that it is a paid advertisement for legal services
- Restricting use of words like "recall" if the product hasn't been pulled from the market
- Prohibiting phrases like "health alert" or "public service announcement"
- Banning use of the Food and Drug Administration logo
- Mandating a warning for patients not to stop taking a drug without consulting their doctor, which has been a problem documented by the FDA
The Tennessee proposal also creates criminal punishment for violations of these rules. But several legislators also have concerns. Sen. Raumesh Akbari, D-Memphis, who is an attorney, says the ads serve a legitimate purpose. Trial lawyers have opposed the effort nationwide.
"We want to make sure that consumers that have been wronged truly are aware that there is recourse," she said. "I know that a lot of class-action suits that are built, a lot of the folks that participate, find out through these advertisements."
A study found that spending by trial lawyers on such ads surpassed $128 million in 2015, according to the Washington Post.