In 2008, Cynthia DiBartolo saw television advertisements for the psoriasis drug HUMIRA, manufactured by Abbott Laboratories (USDCSDNY, 2012, p.7). Her dermatologist prescribed the drug on her request and DiBartolo later developed squamous cell carcinoma (USDCSDNY, 2012, p. 1). In 2011, Abbott released data indicating that HUMIRA was associated with increased risk of skin cancer (USDCSDNY, 2012, p.10). DiBartolo and her dermatologist were unaware of these side-effects since the advertisement did not indicate cancer risk even though Abbott gained that knowledge during their clinical trials (USDCSDNY, 2012, p.1 & p.8).
DiBartolo’s lawsuit against Abbott demonstrates the larger ethical issue of Direct-To-Consumer Advertising (DTCA) of prescription drugs. Should pharmaceutical companies directly advertise to patients? Can patients engage physicians in knowledgeable discussions? Do advertisements adequately describe drug risks and benefits? These issues are debated by physicians, patients, drug manufacturers, and the USFDA. To determine ethicality, DTCA requires evaluation of practicality, social implications, and the methods by which health information is disseminated. DTCA refers to the use of media to directly market drugs to patients (Atherly & Rubin, 2009, p. 640). Prior to the 1980’s, prescription medications were advertised in professional journals and sales representatives made direct proposals to physicians (Cline & Young, 2004, p. 132). Later, public advertisements