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Media coverage of off-label promotion: a content analysis of US newspapers

Media coverage of off-label promotion: a content analysis of US newspapers

Research in Social and Administrative Pharmacy 7(3): 257-271

Promotion of drugs for off-label use is newsworthy, because it is an illegal but all too common strategy used by pharmaceutical companies. The print media are an important source of information about coverage of off-label promotion of drugs and devices and can influence public perceptions of the practice. Print media coverage of off-label promotion during the years 1990-2008 were described and quantified. The primary themes and general tones relating to off-label promotion articles were evaluated. General concerns associated with off-label promotion and complaints about specific brand name drugs were also identified. Content analyses of the top 6 US newspapers were conducted over the period of 1990-2008 to analyze the media coverage given to off-label promotion of drugs and devices. Headlines and full text of articles were analyzed for primary themes and tones of the coverage. Intercoder reliability tests were performed on all the study variables. One hundred and one articles were identified meeting the study inclusion criteria. Coverage varied by newspaper. The Wall Street Journal had the most coverage on the topic (45%), and USA Today and Chicago Tribune had the least coverage (5%). Overall, most of the stories sampled were deemed to have a negative tone in coverage (77%), focusing mainly on lawsuits against drug companies for promoting their drugs for off-label uses. Pfizer's Neurontin(®) (Pfizer Inc., New York, NY 10017, USA) and Johnson & Johnson's Retin-A(®) (Orthoneutrogena, Los Angeles, CA 90045, USA) received the most media attention. The news media helps shape public understanding of promotional practices of pharmaceutical companies and their potential benefits and harms. This study suggests that print media coverage is generally negative about off-label promotion, focusing on legal actions taken against drug companies and the negative consequences of such promotional practices.

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Accession: 054303191

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PMID: 21272550

DOI: 10.1016/j.sapharm.2010.06.003

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