Senate acts to rein in ads for drug injury lawsuits

Bill requires advertisers to warn ‘viewers’ but nothing said about ‘readers’

FRANKFORT – A bill that would regulate plaintiff lawyer advertisements that target consumers of prescription drugs and medical devices has advanced to the state House of Representatives.

The measure, known as Senate Bill 178, would require advertisers to warn viewers that it is dangerous to stop taking a prescribed medication without first consulting a doctor.

Sponsor Sen. Ralph Alvarado, R-Winchester, said a second provision would prohibit the use of a government agency logo in a manner that suggests an affiliation. A third provision would prohibit ads that solicit legal business from being labeled a “medical alert” or “health alert.” Lastly, SB 178 would protect personal health information from being sold for soliciting legal services without the written authorization of the patient.

Alvarado said the ads market the service as a legal networks of participating attorneys but are just “aggregators” or “lead generators” who collect callers’ medical information and sell it to lawyers.

Sen. Phillip Wheeler, R-Pikeville, said he was personally “repulsed” by some of the ads but he could not vote for SB 178. Wheeler said the Kentucky Bar Association has regulatory authority to “police” lawyer advertising. He added there are penalties in place for lawyers who falsely advertise.

“Some of the attorneys who do this type of work are, in fact, performing a public service,” said Wheeler, a lawyer by trade. “Just because something is FDA approved doesn’t mean that it is safe. At one point in time, the drug fen-phen was approved for use in weight loss. We now know many years later that many people suffered actual injury as a result of the use of this drug.”

Alvarado, a practicing doctor, said the ads compromise the doctor-patient relationship and potentially put consumers’ health at risk. He explained that the ads do this by emphasizing a drug’s side effects while failing to mention its benefits.

“A recent physician and patient survey that found 58 percent of physicians reported having patients stop taking their medications without consulting their doctor after seeing one of these ads,” he said.

SB 178 passed by a 21-13 vote. It now goes to the House for consideration.

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