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General Newsletter
September 8, 2008

In This Issue
• Direct-to-Consumer Drug Ads Have Little Effect on Sales: Study
• Brain's Serotonin May Explain Seasonal Mood Changes
• Sleepy Drivers Are Dangerous Drivers
• DEET Works Because Mosquitoes Hate the Smell

Direct-to-Consumer Drug Ads Have Little Effect on Sales: Study

TUESDAY, Sept. 2 (HealthDay News) -- Drug companies that advertise directly to consumers may not be getting their money's worth, a new study contends.

The research, published Tuesday in the online British Medical Journal, found that despite the billions that are being spent on direct-to-consumer drug marketing campaigns, the advertising is having a modest effect at best on sales.

The only two countries that allow pharmaceutical companies to advertise directly to patients are the United States and New Zealand.

As of 2005, the pharmaceutical industry was spending about $5 billion each year on direct-to-consumer campaigns. The industry based this big spending on evidence that consumer campaigns increase prescriptions.

"People tend to think that if direct-to-consumer advertising wasn't effective, pharma wouldn't be doing it," principal investigator Stephen Soumerai, a professor at Harvard Medical School, said in a university news release. "But, as it turns out, decisions to market directly to consumers is based on scant data."

So, a group of researchers conducted a study in Canada, where direct-to-consumer advertising of drugs is illegal.

The English-speaking areas of Canada are regularly exposed to American media and, with it, consumer drug advertising. But residents of Quebec, of whom approximately 80 percent speak French, primarily watch French-language media and are far less exposed to this advertising. The researchers used this disparity to study the effects of direct-to-consumer drug advertising.

Prescription rates for advertised drugs in English-speaking Canadian provinces were compared to rates in Quebec, which served as a control group.

The researchers looked at three drugs: Enbrel (for rheumatoid arthritis), Nasonex (for nasal allergies), and Zelnorm (for irritable bowel syndrome). They tracked prescription statistics over a five-year period using data from IMS Health Canada, a health information company that receives data from about 2,700 Canadian pharmacies.

The sales for Enbrel and Nasonex were not affected by direct-to-consumer advertising. However, sales for Zelnorm did spike by more than 40 percent in English-speaking Canada when the advertising campaign began. This spike in sales was relatively short-lived, and, after a few years, prescription rates in both groups resumed identical patterns.

The researchers theorized that the reason direct-to-consumer advertising is not as effective in the pharmaceutical industry as it is in other industries may have to do with the complexity of drug marketing. With most products, consumers see an ad and are able to go out and purchase the product.

"But pharmaceuticals aren't typical consumer products," Soumerai said. "A person needs to see an ad, get motivated by the ad, contact their doctor for an appointment, show up at the appointment, communicate both the condition and the drug to the doctor, convince the doctor that this drug is preferable to other alternatives, then actually go out and fill the prescription. This is a chain of events that can break at any point."

More information

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has more about prescription drug advertising.


Brain's Serotonin May Explain Seasonal Mood Changes

TUESDAY, Sept. 2 (HealthDay News) -- Fluctuations in the actions of the serotonin transporter, which helps regulate the mood-altering neurotransmitter serotonin, may help explain seasonal affective disorder and related mood changes, researchers say.

In places where the weather changes with the seasons, people commonly feel happier and more energetic when the days are bright and sunny and more depressed and fatigued during the dark of winter. Scientists believe this is related to variations in brain levels of serotonin, a neurotransmitter involved in regulating functions such as mating, feeding, energy balance, and sleep.

In a study published in the September issue of the Archives of General Psychiatry, researchers from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health and the University of Toronto had 88 healthy people undergo a positron emission tomography (PET) scan to assess serotonin binding potential, which indicates serotonin transporter density. The higher the serotonin binding potential, the less serotonin that is circulating in the brain.

To study seasonal fluctuations of serotonin binding potential, the researchers grouped the PET scans according to the season of the scan -- fall and winter or spring and summer.

The serotonin binding potentials were significantly higher during the fall and winter months than in the spring and summer, indicating that less serotonin circulates in the brain during the darker, colder time of the year. The researchers compared their findings to meterological data and found higher values of serotonin binding potentials during times when there were fewer hours of sunlight each day.

The researchers said that higher serotonin binding potential in the winter may help explain why people report lower mood, lack of energy, fatigue, overeating, and increased sleeping during the darker seasons.

"This offers a possible explanation for the regular reoccurrence of depressive episodes in fall and winter in some vulnerable individuals," the researchers wrote.

More information

The American Academy of Family Physicians has more about seasonal affective disorder  External Links Disclaimer Logo.


Sleepy Drivers Are Dangerous Drivers

SATURDAY, Aug. 30 (HealthDay News) -- This Labor Day weekend, the Vision Council and National Sleep Foundation are warning people of the dangers of driving with poor vision or while drowsy.

These two rarely recognized driving hazards are just as deadly as poor road conditions and drunk driving.

In a recent survey, Shedding Light on Driving in the Dark, 38 percent of respondents complained of eyestrain, 34 percent of dry or tired eyes, 25 percent of fatigue, and 18 percent of the inability to focus while driving at night. And both the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the National Safety Council cite the fatality rate at night to be three times higher than the daytime rate.

More than 11 million Americans are living with uncorrected vision problems, which can significantly diminish the ability to drive safely.

"We rely on our eyes every time we step into a car; especially our peripheral vision, depth perception, and focusing skills," Ed Greene, CEO of the Vision Council, said in a council news release. "This link between vision and driving makes it essential for motorists to take steps to maintain healthy vision, just as they take other safety precautions on the road."

Another survey, the 2008 Sleep in America Poll, found that 64 percent of drivers who work 30 hours per week or more have driven a vehicle while feeling drowsy in the past year, and 36 percent have actually fallen asleep at the wheel.

Like alcohol, sleepiness can affect vision, slow reaction time, decrease awareness, and increase the risk of crashing. Young people, men, shift workers, commercial drivers and people with untreated sleep disorders are at especially high risk of being involved in sleep-related crashes.

"Most people are aware of the dangers of drinking and driving but are unaware that driving drowsy can be just as fatal," Darrel Drobnich, chief program officer at the National Sleep Foundation, said in a news release from the foundation. "In fact, traffic safety and sleep experts believe that drowsy driving is much more common than even federal statistics indicate."

The Vision Council and National Sleep Foundation recommend the following to enhance your vision and prevent drowsy driving:

  • Get regular eye exams.
  • Always wear prescription glasses and make sure they are clean.
  • Wear anti-reflective (AR) lenses to eliminate glare.
  • Get 7 hours to 9 hours of sleep a night.
  • During long trips, stop or switch drivers approximately every 100 miles or two hours.
  • Watch for warning signs of fatigue, including impaired reaction time and judgment; decreased performance, vigilance, and motivation; trouble focusing, keeping your eyes open, or keeping your head up; daydreaming and wandering thoughts; yawning or rubbing your eyes repeatedly; drifting from your lane; tailgating and missing signs or exits; feeling restless, irritable, or aggressive; or feeling the need to roll down the window or turn up the radio to stay alert. If you experience any of these warning signs, pull over at a safe place immediately for a short nap or find a place to stay for the night.

More information

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has more about traffic safety.


DEET Works Because Mosquitoes Hate the Smell

FRIDAY, Aug. 22 (HealthDay News) -- The reason DEET-based insect repellants are effective against mosquitoes is because the little blood suckers don't like the smell of the chemical, says a University of California, Davis study.

The finding disproves the long-held belief that DEET interferes with mosquitoes' sense of smell and ability to target a person.

"We found that mosquitoes can smell DEET, and they stay away from it. DEET doesn't mask the smell of the host or jam the insect's senses. Mosquitoes don't like it, because it smells bad to them," chemical ecologist Walter Leal, a professor of entomology, said in a UC Davis news release.

He and his colleagues set up odorless sugar-feeding stations, including some that contained DEET, and found that DEET actively repelled Southern house mosquitoes, which can carry West Nile virus, St. Louis encephalitis, and lymphatic filariasis, a disease caused by threadlike parasitic worms.

The study was published in the Aug. 18-22 issue of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

DEET, the most common active ingredient in insect repellents, was developed in the United States in the 1940s. Worldwide, about 200 million people use DEET-based repellants to protect themselves against disease-carrying insects.

"Despite the fact that DEET is the industry standard mosquito repellant, relatively little is known about how it actually works," UC Davis research entomologist William Reisen said in the news release. "Previous studies have suggested a 'masking' or 'binding' with host emanations. Understanding the mode of action is especially important, because DEET is used as the standard against which all other tentative replacement repellants are compared."

More information

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has more about DEET.

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