Attorney General Hardy Myers today filed a $6 million, multi-state court action against international pharmaceutical giant Pfizer Inc. for its misleading advertising practices used in promoting Zithromax as a product to treat ear infections among young children. Named in a settlement agreement filed today in Marion County Circuit Court, Pfizer Inc. of New York City admits no law violation.
The Assurance of Voluntary Compliance settles Oregon's investigation into Pfizer's Direct-To-Consumer (DTC) advertising and promotional materials targeting health care professionals for its product Zithromax.
Oregon, the lead investigative state, alleged that Pfizer in its advertising misrepresented the effectiveness of Zithromax in comparison to other antibiotics used to treat ear infections in children. Such ear infections are commonly referred to as pediatric acute otitis media (AOM). Eighteen other states joined in the action against Pfizer.
The investigation found that Pfizer focused its ads on the reduced number of times the parents had to give the drug to their children, supposedly making it a more convenient product to use. In doing this, Pfizer failed to disclose that various factors, such as antibiotic resistance, need to be considered when a physician chooses an antibiotic for treatment of AOM.
"The advertising practices of the drug companies have been on our radar screen for several years," Myers said. "Most disturbing is the relentless barrage of television drug promotions directly targeting consumers. These ads are designed to manipulate viewers into demanding that their doctors write prescriptions for a particular product."
"Not only is the same drug not always the best for everyone in every situation but not all conditions require drug therapy," Myers said. "Consumers should discuss all possible treatments and available drugs with their doctor to determine which drug they, or their children, should take in any given situation."
As part of the settlement, Pfizer will fund $2 million in public service announcements (PSAs) during the next three cold seasons of November through March. The PSAs will tell parents the many factors that their doctor should consider when deciding what medicine to prescribe including:
Antibiotic resistance, including the regional variances in the rates of infections with different bacteria.
The ineffectiveness of antibiotics in combating viral infections.
The factors considered by doctors in prescribing drugs to treat infections.
Oregon, as the lead investigative state, was joined by a negotiating committee made up of the states of New York, California, Florida, Texas, Ohio, Wisconsin and Vermont. Under the agreement, Oregon will receive $500,000 for its Consumer Protection and Education Fund, each member of the negotiating committee will receive $300,000, and the 11 non-negotiating states will each receive $127,273.
During the investigation, Oregon consulted dozens of health professionals including faculty at the Oregon State University College of Pharmacy and the Centers for Disease Control.
Under the agreement, Pfizer is prohibited from making certain representations for Zithromax without making specified disclosures. Specifically, Pfizer may not:
Make representations regarding the fewer daily doses required in Zithromax treatment when compared to other antibiotics without making the following disclosure: "Your doctor will consider many factors when choosing an antibiotic, dosing convenience is only one of them."
Compare the effectiveness of Zithromax for treatment of AOM to other antibiotics without making the following disclosure: "Antibiotic resistance is a consideration that may affect your doctor's choice of treatment for your child's ear infection."
Additionally, Pfizer must include the following disclosure in all DTC ads promoting Zithromax for AOM: "Remember that antibiotics don't work for viral infections, such as a cold or flu, so don't insist on a prescription for an antibiotic. Only your doctor can decide what type of infection your child has and the best way to treat it."
If Zithromax ads relating to the convenience of a reduced number of times the medicine has to be administered, frequency of use or effectiveness also refer to scientific studies, Pfizer must state whether the study was published and peer reviewed and whether Pfizer paid for the study. Pfizer also must, upon request, provide the full study or a summary of it to consumers and health care professionals as well as post the study or summary on its Internet site.
Consumers wanting information on consumer protection in Oregon may call the Attorney General's consumer hotline at (503) 378-4320 (Salem area only), (503) 229-5576 (Portland area only) or toll-free at 1-877-877-9392. Justice is online at www.doj.state.or.us.
Jan Margosian, (503) 947-4333 (media line only) firstname.lastname@example.org