Sean Hackbarth Sean Hackbarth
Senior Editor, Digital Content, U.S. Chamber of Commerce


June 26, 2017


You might have seen them at the wee hours on television. In between episodes of Friends or The Big Bang Theory reruns are ads declaring a “Medical Alert!” Flashing lights and bright red letters warn that if you’re taking some medication you could be in imminent danger.

Such tactics used by tort lawyers to drum up business for class action lawsuits are scaring people to death, Lisa Rickard, president of the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform (ILR) warns:

Two years ago, a 45-year-old man, who suffered from a deep vein thrombosis, or blood clot, was watching television. He saw a commercial from a lawyer advertising for lawsuits over the blood thinning medication Xarelto, which the man’s doctor had prescribed to help dissolve the clot.

The patient apparently found the claims in the ad so frightening he stopped taking the medication and subsequently died from a pulmonary embolism.

The man’s death is one of thirty negative health incidents reported to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in recent years regarding patients who watched lawyer ads for Xarelto lawsuits on television, stopped their medications and then suffered serious medical events, including blood clots, strokes, paralysis and death.

A Public Opinion Strategies survey finds these ads could be a widespread problem:

A new national survey of patients taking prescription drugs shows that 26 percent of them would stop taking their medication immediately, without consulting their doctor, after seeing a commercial against the drug’s manufacturer.

The survey, conducted by Public Opinion Strategies for the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform, includes the 12 drugs most targeted by mass tort lawyers, such as blood thinners, cholesterol and diabetes medications as well as drugs taken for anxiety, depression and indigestion. This population equals 46 million adults, meaning nearly 12 million Americans would stop taking their medicines immediately after seeing a lawsuit ad.

Non-doctors scaring the bejeebers out of people doesn’t sit well with the medical community. Last year, the American Medical Association called for such ads to include warnings that patients talk to their doctors first before they stop taking their medications.

“The onslaught of attorney ads has the potential to frighten patients and place fear between them and their doctor,” said AMA Board Member Russell W. H. Kridel, M.D. in a statement. “By emphasizing side effects while ignoring the benefits or the fact that the medication is FDA approved, these ads jeopardize patient care. For many patients, stopping a prescribed medication is far more dangerous, and we need to be looking out for them."

To highlight the problem, the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justicerecently held a hearing on these ads, and earlier this year, Committee Chairman Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) sent letters to the American Bar Association and each of the state bars, asking them to adopt the AMA’s recommendation.

For some the bigger danger than a medical side effect is watching a misleading lawyer ad.

About the authors

Sean Hackbarth

Sean Hackbarth

Sean writes about public policies affecting businesses including energy, health care, and regulations. When not battling those making it harder for free enterprise to succeed, he raves about all things Wisconsin (his home state) and religiously follows the Green Bay Packers.

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