NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

European Patients are Importing Drug Information

April 30, 2004

Countries with national health insurance schemes attempt to deny patients access to information about the newest, most effective drugs for a simple reason: The drugs are expensive, and if patients don't know about them, they won't know what they aren't getting.

Web sites on the Internet are undermining government attempts to ban such information, reports the Wall Street Journal.

  • In Europe, tight restrictions prevent drug companies from any consumer advertising 10 years after such ad bans were lifted in the United States.
  • In America, by contrast, in 2002 drug makers spent about $2.6 billion advertising directly to consumers according to IMS Health, a London health-consulting group.
  • Because of the ban, in most European countries drug makers can't so much as answer consumers' telephone queries about their drugs.
  • Web sites in Europe aren't allowed to carry information from drug manufacturers, but European patients are increasingly turning to U.S. Web sites by simply clicking "yes" when asked whether they are U.S. citizens.

"Some European governments quietly oppose easing the ad ban because they worry patients will start demanding pricey new drugs," says the Journal, "that their national health budgets can ill afford."

Europe's drug spending has increased more slowly because its state-run health agencies, which buy most of the medicines, have worked at containing costs. Sales in the European Union grew 8 percent last year, trailing U.S. sales growth of 11 percent, according to IMS Health, and Americans spend about twice as much on drugs as Europeans -- and use more of them.

The European Commission is considering changing the ad restriction. In the meantime, patient advocacy groups and drug companies are funding research that shows patients want more control over their treatment.

Source: Jeanne Whalen, "European Patients Lobby EC To Ease Its Ban on Drug Ads," Wall Street Journal, April 30, 2004.

For WSJ text,,SB108326943565097620,00.html


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