U.S. House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) has sent letters to the American Bar Association and every state bar association, urging the organizations to adopt requirements for warnings on trial lawyer advertisements that urge patients to discontinue the use of some medicines.
These ads, of course, are also seeking plaintiffs' to join litigation against the manufacturers of those medicines.
"Indeed, much of this advertising is designed to frighten patients," writes Goodlatte. "After emphasizing the potential side effects of an FDA approved and doctor prescribed medication, one advertisement urges patients to call 1-800-BAD-DRUG — a less than subtle suggestion that the drug in question is inherently harmful."
He goes on to described additional advertisements, including one that "depicts a patient being loaded into an ambulance."
"It is letter wonder that patients are confused and concerned about such medications and decide to discontinue taking their doctor-prescribed and often lifesaving medication," continues Goodlatte. "These deceptive advertisements have had deadly consequences."
He cites a Heart Rhythm Journal article which found that a number of patients have "ceased using their anticoagulent without consulting a physician after viewing negative legal advertisements."
According to that article, "in the majority of cases, patients experienced a stroke or transient ischemic neurological event; 2 patients had persistent residual paralysis. One patient, a 45-year-old man receiving rivaroxaban for treatment of deep vein thrombosis, stopped the drug and died of a subsequent pulmonary embolism, and 1 female patient, receiving rivaroxaban for stroke prevention, stopped the drug and died of a massive stroke."
Goodlatte notes that the American Medical Association recently adopted a resolution that supports a “requirement that attorney commercials which may cause patients to discontinue medically necessary medications have appropriate warnings that patients should not discontinue medications without seeking the advice of their physician.”
The U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform (ILR) began raising concerns about these ads in 2016, launching a video highlighting the issue last December. In that video, the ILR says that plaintiffs' attorneys "spent 128 million dollars to air 365,000 ads" pitching litigation versus drug manufacturers in 2015.
"Pharmaceutical ads go through careful FDA scrutiny," said ILR President Lisa Rickard. "Ads for lawsuits against drug makers should as well. Trial lawyers have an obligation to ensure the claims in their ads don’t harm public health.”
Goodlatte hopes the legal profession can fix the problem without the need to pass new legislation.
"The legal profession, which provides itself on the ability to self-regulate, should consider immediately adopting common sense reforms that require all legal advertising to contain a clear and conspicuous admonition to patients not to discontinue medication without consulting their physician," he wrote.