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A billboard uses a photograph of the late comedian Chris Farley to advertise a treatment for drug and alcohol addiction, on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles, April 3, 2006. The outdoor advertisement which promotes a new addiction treatment from Hythiam Inc. is the first major commercial use of Farley's image approved by his family. Farley died of a drug overdose.
Fred Prouser—Reuters/Corbis

Yesterday, the American Medical Association called for a ban on TV commercials and other advertisements for prescription drugs and medical devices, saying the billions of dollars spent on medical advertising targeted at consumers is raising the cost of healthcare.

"A growing proliferation of ads is driving demand for expensive treatments despite the clinical effectiveness of less costly alternatives," the group said in a statement. The vote to call for a ban on the ads reflects "the negative impact of commercially-driven promotions, and the role that marketing costs play in fueling escalating drug prices,” AMA board chair-elect Patrice A. Harris, M.D., M.A., said in a press release. “Direct-to-consumer advertising also inflates demand for new and more expensive drugs, even when these drugs may not be appropriate.”

In its announcement, the AMA cited data indicating that amount pharmaceutical companies spent on advertising over the past two years increased 30%, hitting $4.5 billion. The trickle-down effect is higher costs passed along to consumers.

The group calls for greater "choice and competition" to be available to patients shopping for medication, along with "greater transparency in prescription drug prices and costs." Along with drug advertising, the AMA blames high prescription costs on industry consolidation and companies buying up old patents on generics and then increasing drug prices, like the widely covered (and derided) instance of Turing Pharmaceuticals hiking the price of one newly acquired drug by 4,000%.

Even if it will help patients dealing with expensive prescriptions, Reuters points out banning direct-to-consumer advertising by drug companies may be easier said than done. Court rulings have said that drug ads are free speech protected by the Constitution.