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National News

San Francisco: Supervisors President Ammiano and City Attorney Herrera Take on HIV Drug Ads

May 31, 2002

Last year the San Francisco Board of Supervisors took up the cause to reform HIV drug advertisements, and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) agreed that pharmaceutical companies had an obligation to portray realistic images of people with AIDS. The FDA, in a spring 2001 letter, directed the pharmaceutical companies to stop using misleading images. Some companies complied but others did not.

Two weeks ago, Board of Supervisors President Tom Ammiano and City Attorney Dennis Herrera wrote their own letter to pharmaceutical companies protesting the use of misleading advertisements for HIV/AIDS drugs and warning that the city is considering legal action against the companies.

The May 14 letter charges GlaxoSmithKline, Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. and Agouron Pharmaceuticals Inc. with continued unethical and illegal advertising practices over the objections of the FDA. According to the letter, the companies use "images and phrases that "suggest that, with your drugs, HIV and AIDS can be easily managed and that using these drugs will enable a person to live a long, strong and healthy life."

The ads, according to the two officials, "fail to convey the limitations and problems associated with HIV/AIDS drugs.... They do not adequately warn people that for a substantial percentage of the people who try them, the drugs do not work." Nor do the ads "discuss the percentages of individuals... who experience side effects that range from debilitating to fatal...." In addition, the ads do not discuss the fact that some drugs are used in combinations with others, and that the combinations are less easy to manage and increase the risks of side effects. Finally, the ads do not discuss the issue of drug resistance and the limited time period each medication can be used.

Ammiano said that he and Herrera sent the letter because recent studies have found that the upward trend in HIV transmission is the result of misconceptions among at-risk populations about the efficacy of HIV/AIDS drugs. Herrera warned the continued use of the ads violates California consumer protection statutes. "Putting out misinformation that leads to rising rates of infection is unconscionable and illegal," Herrara said.

Back to other CDC news for May 31, 2002

Previous Updates

Adapted from:
Bay Area Reporter (San Francisco)
05.23.02; Zak Szymanski

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This article was provided by CDC National Prevention Information Network. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update.
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