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Consumer Reports: Off-label drug use ads

Pharmaceutical companies spend billions on drug advertising each year. And a proposed change by the Food and Drug Administration could allow them to spend even more.

You may not realize that drug companies today can only promote a drug for a use that's approved by the FDA. However, drugs are prescribed all the time for uses that are not approved by the FDA.

It's a common and legal practice. In fact, one out of every five prescriptions are written by doctors this way, according to a 2006 study.

Now, the FDA is considering giving drug companies the OK to advertise drugs for uses that are not approved. Consumer Reports thinks this could be confusing to consumers, and research shows most people don't even want it.

Complicating the issue, a recent study shows drugs prescribed this way often lack strong scientific evidence to support a use that's not FDA-approved. People who get a prescription from their doctor for a drug that's not approved to treat their condition may be at a higher risk of side effects and other serious problems.

Consumer Reports' medical advisers suggest when prescribed a new medication, ask your doctor whether it has been approved for your condition, and if not, ask why he or she recommends it.

Want to see what condition the FDA has approved your drug to treat? Go to the National Institute of Health's DailyMed website, search for the drug, then click "Indications & Usage" to see whether your condition is listed.

And, if you'd like your opinion to be heard on the practice of off-label prescribing and the relaxing of rules for advertising, click here.

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