(HealthDay News) – When a drug switches from prescription-only to over-the-counter (OTC) there is a shift in the direct-to-consumer advertising (DTCA), with less presentation of potential harms and frequent omission of identification by generic names, according to a research letter published online Sept 11 in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Jeremy A Greene, MD, PhD, of Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, and colleagues analyzed all print and broadcast advertisements from four commonly used prescription drugs (loratidine, omeprazole, orlistat, and cetirizine) that were the subject of extensive DTCA promotion from two years before to six months after shifting from prescription-only to OTC.

The researchers found that, after the switch to OTC, 97% of advertisements described the benefits of the medication compared with only 83% before the switch (P=0.01), although the difference was not significant for individual drugs. There was a significant decrease in the presentation of potential harms, from 70% of advertisements before the switch to 11% afterward. After the switch to OTC, contraindications and adverse events were not mentioned in any advertisements, except for orlistat print advertisements. Print and broadcast advertisements were significantly less likely to mention drugs’ generic names after switching to OTC (52% vs. 94%).

“Our analysis suggests that DTCA after OTC switch presents even less information for making an informed decision, at a time when consumers must have more knowledge of whether medications’ potential benefits are worth their risks and costs,” the authors write.

Several authors disclosed financial ties to the pharmaceutical industry and CVS Caremark, where one of the authors is employed. One author has provided expert testimony against AstraZeneca.

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