Chamber pushes for crackdown on lawyers' drug ads

Chamber pushes for crackdown on lawyers' drug ads
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The nation's leading business group is mounting a new attack on advertisements run by trial lawyers that tell consumers about the negative side effects from medical drugs and devices.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Institute for Legal Reform (ILR) claims the ads, which include descriptions about serious adverse reactions, scare patients out of taking the drugs they’ve been prescribed. The advocacy group sees the ads as an effort to drum up plaintiffs for lawsuits and is calling for the ads to be more strictly regulated

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But trial lawyers are hitting back, accusing the group of trying to protect drug companies that rush deadly drugs to the market to turn a quick profit. 

“Don’t you think it’d be kind of important for someone to know what the adverse effects of a particular drug are before someone starts taking them?” asked Tom Girardi, founding partner at the Los Angeles personal injury law firm Girardi | Keese.

“In every single case I’ve been involved with, there’s been total knowledge on behalf of the drug company of the particular problem and they don’t say a word about it.”

Girardi, who is best known for working on the water pollution case that became the plot of the movie “Erin Brockovich,” called the Chamber’s campaign “disgusting.”

“The attack is really inappropriate primarily because it tries to say 'let’s keep the real side effects private and doctors will prescribe it,' ” he said.

The fight is heating up as the lawyers' ads become more prevalent on television and online.

A recent Washington Post op-ed from the IRL claimed that in 2015 lawyers spent $128 million to air 365,000 ads warning consumers about medical drugs and practices.

The IRL claims the ads are misleading and deceptive. The group points to a recent study that found at least 30 people had suffered serious medical problems, including strokes, heart attacks and pulmonary embolisms, when they stopped taking the blood-thinning drug Xarelto after seeing a trial lawyer’s ad on its side effects.

Janssen Pharmaceuticals Inc., which obtained the U.S. rights to Xarelto from Bayer, funded the study.

In a statement, Janssen told The Hill that blood thinners like Xarelto are potentially life saving and patients should not discontinue taking them without first talking to a doctor.

“We share the concern that plaintiff lawyer ads may alarm patients into stopping their medication without consulting their doctors,” the company said. “There have been instances where patients, who have stopped treatment with Xarelto after seeing plaintiff lawyer ads, have tragically died or suffered strokes and other serious thrombotic events.”

The nation's top doctors group has also expressed concerns about the ads.

In June, the American Medical Association adopted a resolution that attorney advertising should have “appropriate and conspicuous warnings that patients should not discontinue medications without seeking the advice of their physician.”

The group did not provide any further comment about the resolution.

The ILR kicked off its campaign with the op-ed in The Washington Post earlier this month, and is weighing its next steps.

The group hopes to raise pressure over the issue and says Congress, the Food and Drug Administration and the Federal Trade Commission should take a closer look to make sure the ads aren’t harming the public or held to a lower standard than traditional drug advertisements from pharmaceutical companies.

“We’re not saying you can’t advertise at all, we’re saying there ought to be some parameters on how they advertise,” said ILR President Lisa Rickard. “They’re not even required to say, ‘You should consult a doctor before you stop taking a drug.’”

But plaintiff's lawyers are vowing to fight the Chamber.

Mike Papantonio, a personal injury accident attorney and partner at the Florida-based firm Levin Papantonio, says the Chamber's concerns about patients ring false. He says all the business lobby is really concerned about is protecting pharmaceutical companies from getting sued over dangerous drugs.

“The Chamber is out on this campaign because people are kicking over the rotten log,” he said.

In a statement to The Hill, the American Association for Justice, which represents trial lawyers, said the pharmaceutical industry has been fighting for decades to continue advertising and selling their products while doing everything to avoid accountability when those drugs hurt patients.

“It is the height of hypocrisy for their representatives to suggest restricting attorneys from providing consumers information about their right to take a complaint to a jury,” the group said.