October 19, 2021

Wellness startup’s generic Viagra ads flout Facebook rules

The ads on TV and radio are pretty harmless: “Hey man,” a narrator playfully says in a TV commercial for Hims, a men’s wellness brand that sells prescription drugs to treat dysfunction. erectile, oral herpes, social anxiety, hair loss, and other conditions. “Hi. Welcome home.

The ad invites viewers to “start erectile dysfunction treatment for just $ 5,” alongside a close-up of a young man seductively squeezing a white pill to his lips. What appears to be customer reviews overlap the image: “I should have done this years ago and I feel like the young stallion I always imagined I was,” says one. “Exceptional product, works beyond our expectations,” read another.

Much like other commercials for Hims – and its sister brand, Hers, which sells prescription drugs and wellness products for women – which air on TV, radio, podcasts, or appear. in printed matter or on billboards, this advertising is rather generic. It describes a medical issue, alludes to the company’s business model – which eschews a doctor’s visit in favor of an “online visit” with a doctor – and invites the viewer to check its website for more details. .

Online, however, brands are taking a different approach. Hims and Hers ads on Facebook and Instagram are more specific, giving users a quick and easy way to buy prescription drugs directly. “Men [sic] can get sildenafil (the active ingredient in Viagra) delivered right to the door, ”an active Facebook ad from Hims read. “Try it today for just $ 5. free delivery!”

Such ads violate Facebook policies that prohibit the promotion of the sale or use of prescription drugs or suggest that users have a specific condition. Earlier this month, Facebook removed three Hims ads for sildenafil that had been reported by WIRED; a Facebook spokesperson said the ads violated Facebook policies. But hundreds of other Hims and Hers ads touting specific prescription drugs were active on Facebook on Friday.

Many Hims and Hers online advertisements may also violate United States Food and Drug Administration guidelines that require marketers to disclose side effects associated with a drug. A Hers ad for a prescription anti-acne drug, tretinoin, for example, calls the drug “your skin’s best friend” and says “Serious results without the hassle.” $ 5. “

The ad does not mention any of the side effects required by the FDA, which in the case of tretinoin may include burning, itching, stinging, peeling, peeling or redness of the skin, or sensitivity to the sun, to soaps, cosmetics and other skin care products. . Hims’ advertising for sildenafil also does not mention side effects, including low blood pressure, vision or hearing loss, headache, or insomnia. Hims and Hers TV commercials do not contain this information because they do not mention specific drugs, instead referring to “treatment”.

FDA disclosure requirements apply to online media as well as traditional media, says Hyosun Kim, professor at the University of Wisconsin Stevens Point, whose research focuses on direct online advertising to drug consumers on prescription. “The FDA has these guidelines to protect consumers from misleading information because [when it comes to] prescription drugs, it is really important that the patient understands the risk factors and any other [interactions the drug might have], “she says. Kim says that in her opinion, advertisements like the ones run by Hims and Hers – which do not include any information about the risks and, in some cases, claim to provide” serious hassle-free results “- violate the FDA guidelines.

The FDA declined to comment specifically on the Hims and Hers ads, citing department policy. However, a spokesperson for the agency pointed out that its prescription drug advertising guidelines generally apply to social media and sent WIRED examples of recent actions taken against companies that had broadcast Facebook ads for prescription drugs without properly disclosing the risks.

“Regardless of the platform, FDA requirements must be applied to ensure that any communication from the manufacturer or distributor about a prescription drug is truthful, balanced and not misleading, and ensures that there is appropriate information. on the risks, ”said Nathan Arnold, a spokesperson for the agency. In general, if promoting an approved product results in a violation of law or FDA regulations, the FDA may take compliance action, such as sending a warning letter to the company. or the imposition of an injunction. “

When asked about FDA requirements and the silence of side effect ads, a spokesperson for Hims and Hers said the company’s mission is to “give all people important information and options for their health. health and happiness and our publicity is intended to start this conversation with the hundreds of thousands of men and women who have faced barriers to care or treatment options… ”

“This is why we make sure that no matter what advertising a customer may see or engage with,” the spokesperson continued, “anyone seeking treatment through the Hims platform & Hers receives information about potential risks at several points during this process and is only prescribed a medication if an independent and licensed physician determines that this is the best treatment option for that person.

Facebook Ads Library

Hims and Hers offers a range of drugs, ranging from erectile dysfunction and acne drugs, to valacyclovir, an oral herpes drug, and addiy, a libido drug. In some cases, brands promote drugs to treat conditions other than those for which a drug has been approved, a practice known as off-label use. For example, Hims and Hers markets propranolol, a blood pressure medication, as a treatment for anxiety.

According to the FDA, “The law does not allow drug companies to advertise benefits unless they relate to the FDA approved use. “

When asked about the advertisements for propranolol, the spokesperson for Hims and Hers said that “the product page for propranolol (through which a customer must proceed to purchase) specifically states that propranolol is not approved by the FDA for the treatment of performance or other anxiety. Clients are re-informed of this and are required to specifically acknowledge their understanding during the consultation process. “

Beyond the FDA, many Hims and Hers ads appear to violate Facebook’s drug advertising policies. A Facebook spokesperson said that three Hims ads identified by WIRED violate Facebook policies by specifically referring to prescription drugs. The spokesperson noted that other Hims ads violate a different Facebook policy, which prohibits ads that claim to know personal details about the viewer, or that imply the viewer has a particular attribute. The Facebook spokesperson said that the ad below implied that the viewer may be suffering from erectile dysfunction because of the words “ED?” Yes [sic], it’s normal.”

On June 12, Facebook told WIRED that the three offending ads had been removed. But a review of Facebook’s ad library on Friday found more than 600 ads for him and her, most of which specifically promote the sale or use of prescription drugs without disclosing the risks of those drugs. In fact, around the time Facebook told WIRED it was removing the offending ads, Facebook approved dozens of Hims and Hers ads that promoted the sale and use of the same prescription drugs. . The Facebook spokesperson did not respond to five requests for comment on why other ads stay active and how Facebook enforces its policies. After the post, the spokesperson said Facebook “is reviewing these issues and seeking to clarify our policies with advertisers if necessary.”

Regarding Facebook, the spokesperson for Hims and Hers said, “Their policies are updated frequently and continuously and we work closely with their ad team to ensure that all of our ads meet their requirements. “.

Some experts claim that these online advertisements could put patients at risk. “It’s dangerous [and] irresponsible, ”says Arthur Caplan, director of the medical ethics division at NYU Langone Medical Center. “A lot of people are looking for a quick fix [when it comes to their health]. Those [online] direct-to-consumer ads undermine the idea that you should see a doctor, which is the wrong attitude. Caplan says that “taking pills to resolve your medical symptoms is not good medicine.” You want to find out what the underlying disease is. It puts you in danger if you don’t pay attention to it.

This article first appeared on wired.com.


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