washingtonpost.com  > Health > Health Care Issues > Prescription Drugs

Drugs Get Good Ratings, But Drugmakers Less So

Industry Targets Profit Primarily, Americans Think

By Marc Kaufman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, February 26, 2005; Page A03

By an overwhelming majority, Americans believe prescription drugs significantly improve their health and quality of life, but almost as many say the companies that make them put their profits ahead of the well-being of consumers, according to a new poll released yesterday.

The survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 78 percent of adults say prescription drugs make a "big difference" in people's lives, and 91 percent believe drug companies contribute significantly to society by researching and developing new drugs.

Pharmacist Bill Mattson talks with Yoko Mitani at a Chicago pharmacy. A Kaiser Family Foundation poll finds that many Americans want the government to do more to reduce the cost of drugs. (Tim Boyle -- Getty Images)

But 70 percent think the pharmaceutical companies that produce them are more concerned "about making profits" than developing new drugs, according to the survey.

The poll found that a large majority of Americans want the government to do more to reduce drug costs -- with 65 percent saying they want more government regulation of prices and 73 percent favoring changes that would allow Americans to buy cheaper drugs from Canada.

"Rightly or wrongly, drug companies are now the number one villain in the public's eye when it comes to rising health care costs," foundation President Drew E. Altman said. "People want to rein in the cost of prescription drugs, and just about anything we poll on with that aim gets public support."

Drug companies say they need high profits to plow money back into expensive research and development, but the poll found that 81 percent of respondents did not believe that argument. Only 14 percent said that drug research and development justified the high cost of brand-name drugs.

The Kaiser poll also reported a Harris Interactive survey that found that in 2004 a majority of Americans said for the first time that drug companies overall did a "bad job" of serving their customers. In 1997, when the Harris survey began, 79 percent of those polled said that drug companies did a "good job" for consumers.

The sliding approval ratings put the pharmaceutical industry in the company of oil companies and managed care organizations in terms of how favorably the public views their efforts.

The Kaiser poll was taken by telephone in early February and surveyed 1,201 people 18 and older. The margin of error was plus or minus three percentage points.

Although the results of the poll were overwhelmingly negative for the drug industry -- large majorities also criticized its direct-to-consumer advertising and believed drug costs were a major cause of increasing medical costs -- the survey showed relatively high public confidence in the Food and Drug Administration, the agency that regulates drug companies. The survey found that 80 percent of Americans remain confident of the safety of the drug supply, and 77 percent thought the FDA was doing a good job of ensuring that safety.

"Recent controversy over the safety of a few popular drugs has yet to shift public perception of the FDA," said Mollyann Brodie, director of public opinion and media research for the Kaiser Family Foundation. "Most people continue to express confidence in the FDA's ability to ensure the safety of prescription drugs."

Poll respondents were especially critical of drug advertising, with only 18 percent saying they trusted it "most of the time." Forty percent said they trusted drug advertising "hardly ever" or "never."

About 50 percent of Americans take at least one prescription drug, and 17 percent take four or more.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company


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