FDA Releases Draft Guidelines on Social Media and the Pharmaceutical Industry, but Confusion Remains

The Citizen's Guide to the Future
Jan. 3 2012 5:45 PM

FDA Releases Draft Guidelines on Social Media and the Pharmaceutical Industry

130636481
Prescription pill bottles.

Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images

Big Pharma spends big bucks on online marketing—more than $1 billion last year. But when it comes to playing in social media, pharmaceutical companies have been unclear on what is permissible and what is verboten. They have been waiting for guidance from the Food and Drug Administration, which held hearings into matter long ago, in November 2009.

Torie Bosch Torie Bosch

Torie Bosch is the editor of Future Tense, a project of Slate, the New America Foundation, and Arizona State that looks at the implications of new technologies. 

Unfortunately, the draft guidelines finally released last week by the Food and Drug Administration won’t clear up too much of the confusion. The 15-page document (PDF)—and it’s important to emphasize that this is still only a draft—focuses  exclusively on social media discussion of off-label medication use.

Advertisement

Former FDA associate commissioner Peter Pitts tells Ad Age, "What everybody was looking for was never going to happen. If you're waiting for divine guidance, you're still waiting.” Indeed, one unnamed pharmaceutical marketer tells Ad Age that the guidelines are “ambiguous.” But this isn’t the FDA’s only bite at the cherry; other guidelines may come down in the future as the terrain becomes clearer.

In November 2010, Jeremy A. Greene and Aaron S. Kesselheim laid out several of the social-media gray areas for Big Pharma in the New England Journal of Medicine. One of note:

Although most Internet users can often (but not always) find data on drugs' risks and benefits within a few keystrokes, it is hard to determine whether the source is credible and disinterested. It is now recognized that the ghostwriting of medical research articles can have important public health implications; financial disclosures should be just as explicit for leading providers of social media content as for authors of articles in peer-reviewed journals.

Guidance on that subject might not be divine, but it will be crucial.

Read more on Ad Age.

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.

TODAY IN SLATE

Foreigners

More Than Scottish Pride

Scotland’s referendum isn’t about nationalism. It’s about a system that failed, and a new generation looking to take a chance on itself. 

What Charles Barkley Gets Wrong About Corporal Punishment and Black Culture

Why Greenland’s “Dark Snow” Should Worry You

Three Talented Actresses in Three Terrible New Shows

Why Do Some People See the Virgin Mary in Grilled Cheese?

The science that explains the human need to find meaning in coincidences.

Jurisprudence

Happy Constitution Day!

Too bad it’s almost certainly unconstitutional.

Is It Worth Paying Full Price for the iPhone 6 to Keep Your Unlimited Data Plan? We Crunch the Numbers.

What to Do if You Literally Get a Bug in Your Ear

  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 16 2014 7:03 PM Kansas Secretary of State Loses Battle to Protect Senator From Tough Race
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 16 2014 4:16 PM The iPhone 6 Marks a Fresh Chance for Wireless Carriers to Kill Your Unlimited Data
  Life
The Eye
Sept. 16 2014 12:20 PM These Outdoor Cat Shelters Have More Style Than the Average Home
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 15 2014 3:31 PM My Year As an Abortion Doula
  Slate Plus
Slate Plus Video
Sept. 16 2014 2:06 PM A Farewell From Emily Bazelon The former senior editor talks about her very first Slate pitch and says goodbye to the magazine.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 16 2014 8:43 PM This 17-Minute Tribute to David Fincher Is the Perfect Preparation for Gone Girl
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 16 2014 6:40 PM This iPhone 6 Feature Will Change Weather Forecasting
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 16 2014 11:46 PM The Scariest Campfire Story More horrifying than bears, snakes, or hook-handed killers.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 15 2014 9:05 PM Giving Up on Goodell How the NFL lost the trust of its most loyal reporters.