Despite a ban on ads promoting prescription drugs in Canada, many people are still heading to their doctors seeking cures they’ve seen on TV.

“We’re not very good at enforcing our law in a number of ways,” says Barbara Mintzes, who teaches pharmacology at the University of British Columbia.

People with insurance coverage are the most likely to ask for drugs they see advertised, she said. Her research, published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal in 2003, shows 75 per cent of the time doctors give out the prescriptions their patients ask for.


Looser American laws allow drug companies to advertise on TV and in magazines available to Canadians.

Mintzes says distributors use a loophole in the law to air the ads on Canadian stations as well.

The Canadian government amended the law in 1978 to allow drug companies to advertise generic drugs’ price comparisons, so long as there was no mention of a drug’s purpose or effects.

Pharmaceutical companies can promote anti-depressants, sleeping pills and erectile-dysfunction remedies using what Mintzes calls “reminder ads.”

“It shows some image of a person who is gloriously happy because of the drug, but it doesn’t give you anything in terms of solid information to judge it with.”

The overall effectiveness of the drugs is often questionable, she says.

Mintzes spoke at Dalhousie University last night, hoping to highlight the connection between money spent on advertising and the dangers of taking unnecessary prescriptions.

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