West Virginia Curbs Misleading “Bad Drug” Ads

West Virginia Governor Jim Justice signed more than 350 bills into law by the end of March, including one to curb misleading “1-800-bad-drug” ads.  The new law provides important protections for patients in the mountain state.

Prevalent and deceptive, “bad drug” ads often present themselves as medical alerts.  The ads claim that certain medications or medical devices are dangerous, deadly or dysfunctional.  They often target senior citizens. Some feature the logo of a government agency to lend authority to their message.  But these ads are actually lawsuit advertisements. Directing viewers to call the 1-800 number on their screen, the ads aim to collect names for a class action lawsuit.  

“Bad drug” ads can have another effect, however.  People can become alarmed to the point of abandoning their medication.  In a 2018 survey, more than half of health care providers reported having a patient who’s discontinued medication, without consulting their doctor, after seeing a “bad drug” ad.  The results of that decision can be dangerous.

With West Virginia’s bill signed into law, the state will now require “bad drug” ads to name their sponsor and identify themselves as paid legal advertisements.  Federal logos can no longer suggest that the ad is government affiliated. And perhaps most importantly, the ads must advise viewers that discontinuing prescribed medication without their health care provider’s advice can be dangerous.   

West Virginia’s legislative victory on the issue saw hospitals, health care providers and state legislators come together in a groundswell effort to protect patients.  West Virginia followed Tennessee and Texas in passing such protections. The Federal Trade Commission has also weighed in on the issue, warning against “deceptive” and “unfair” ads.  

While West Virginia’s law makes significant strides, however, it stops short of full protections.  The law addresses ads targeting patients on FDA-approved medications, but it does not encompass similar ads about medical devices.  From defibrillators to infusion pumps to medical mesh, devices that keep patients stable or self-sufficient often come under attack in such ads as well.  

For now, residents of West Virginia who rely on prescription medications can benefit from the protections made available – encountering fewer misleading ads that could spur dangerous medical choices without their physician’s guidance.

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