August 20, 2015

Question of the Week: Should pharmaceutical companies be allowed to use celebrities to advertise their drugs?

By the C|C Whistleblower Lawyer Team

Kim Kardashian has found a new way to leverage her 42 million Instagram followers: pharmaceutical sales.  Last month, Kim posted a picture to her account of herself holding a bottle of Diclegis, an FDA-approved treatment for morning sickness.  She included a comment explaining that she “felt a lot better” after using Diclegis to treat her own morning sickness.  She went on to note that she was comfortable taking the drug because “it’s been studied and there was no increased risk to the baby.”

Unfortunately for Kim, and Duchesnay, the manufacturer of Diclegis who paid Kim to promote the drug, this doesn’t provide a full description of the safety profile of the drug.  Specifically, as the FDA pointed out to Duchesnay in a letter following on Kim’s post, marketing is misleading if it presents efficacy claims but fails to communicate risk information.  In the case of Diclegis, Kim failed to mention that Diclegis has not been studied in women with severe morning sickness and side effects include somnolescence.  Not mentioned by the FDA, but likely significant to consumers, is the additional fact that Diclegis was pulled from the market in 1983 after a number of lawsuits led to findings it caused birth defects.  It was only after Duchasney sponsored a clinical trial proving to the FDA’s satisfaction that the drug did not increase the risk of birth defects that it was allowed back on the market.

There is a debate currently raging in the courts about what limits FDA should be able to place on drug companies’ marketing tactics.  For years, through use of the False Claims Act, the Department of Justice has collected multi-million and billion dollar settlements from drug companies based on their “off-label” marketing of drugs – promoting use of their drugs for populations, indications, or in dosages not approved by the FDA.  But this behavior was normally paired with the use of dishonest or misleading promotional materials and/or kickbacks to financially induce prescriptions.  Now courts are faced with a more complicated question: should drug companies be able to promote their drugs for uses not approved by the FDA if the materials are truthful and non-misleading and there are no financial inducements?

Duchasney could likely have mollified the FDA by more carefully scripting Kim’s post to include risk information.  This may have caused the post to lose some of it’s “Kim authenticity,” but Duchasney would still have reached 42 million (likely mostly female of child-bearing age) Instagram users.  To put this in perspective, the Republican Presidential debate held earlier this month had just shy of 24 million viewers.  Which brings us to our question of the week:  should drug companies be allowed to use celebrities to advertise their drugs?  Some may argue that with our country’s “cult of celebrity,” the draw of these figures is too powerful to be used responsibly by manufacturers of something as important as prescription medication.  Others might say this is just particularly effective commercial promotion.  What do you think?

Should intelligence-agency whistleblowers who reveal through proper government channels classified information exposing government fraud or misconduct receive the same whistleblower protections as other government employees?

Please let us know why in the comment section below.

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3 Responses to “Question of the Week: Should pharmaceutical companies be allowed to use celebrities to advertise their drugs?

  1. No.

    Pharmaceutical conglomerates should not even exist honestly. Using celebrities gives the wrong impression that it is OK to take drugs, that the advertised drugs are safe to use (they are not), and that it is esteemed to become a hypochondriac. The drug industry is already way over-subsidized, this is just another cultural dumbing down to the masses that will only end up creating a public mass of subservient, poor, and unhealthy people. A vast majority of these drugs are not even needed. Misdiagnosed illnesses happen all of the time and the entire industry literally capitalizes on it. So too will the celebrities if we are dumb enough to allow it. Celebrities already make absurd amounts of money for what they do. You want big pharma to hire KNOWN porn stars (Kim Kardashian) to peddle their flawed products? Oh, what modern American corporate capitalism has wrought to the masses…

  2. Too many people are swayed by what celebrities say, without any serious thought about what the product really does or if it is safe.

  3. There are enough stupid people in this world that think if a celebrity endorses it, it’s a good product. People should research a product before they buy it. It’s kind of like all the fools that think Hillary Clinton is innocent.