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Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Millions are spent on ads targeting diabetes medications, but FTC worried lawyers are lying in them

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By John O'Brien | Oct 2, 2019


WASHINGTON (Legal Newsline) – As a federal agency considers whether lawyers are illegally frightening potential clients who see their television commercials, research shows drugs like Invokana and Truvada are among the most popular subjects of lawyer spending.

Last week, the Federal Trade Commission sent letters to seven legal practitioners and lead generators (companies who refer potential clients to law firms) over their claims in TV ads. The commercials at issue possibly misstate whether pharmaceuticals have been recalled or the seriousness of side effects.

The FTC is not making the letters or their targets public, though Legal Newsline has filed a Freedom of Information Act request to obtain them.

The agency’s announcement, though, specifies that the ads regard blood-thinners and drugs for diabetes, acid reflux and high blood pressure, among other conditions.

It is possible, then, that one of those drugs is Invokana, a diabetes medication that lawyers say is linked to ketoacidosis and kidney injuries. It has not been recalled, but the Food and Drug Administration did issue a safety warning.

Research provided by X Ante, using Kantar CMAG data, shows Invokana lawyers and lead generators spent an estimated $5.3 million on television advertising from January through August of this year. The estimations were reached based on estimated ad spending and the number of ads that have aired.

Almost 12,000 Invokana ads have aired, X Ante says. It’s not the only diabetes drug that has drawn attention from lawyers.

Jardiance, which helps control blood sugar for diabetics, also has an alleged link to ketoacidosis. It is part of a group known as SGLT2 inhibitors that have been linked to a form of gangrene that attacks the genitals. The FDA also issued a safety alert about it but has not recalled it.

Lawyers seeking Jardiance clients have spent about $4.1 million on 9,365 ads in the first eight months of 2019, X Ante reports.

In X Ante’s medical device and prescription drug category, hernia mesh, military earplugs, talcum powder and IVC filters dominate the spending in the same timeframe. Mesh ads have totaled $25 million, while $14.5 million has been spent on talcum powder ads.

For military earplugs, the figure is $14 million and for IVC filters, it is $12.8 million. There have been more than 219,000 ads over those four products, X Ante says.

Lawyers spent $5.1 million and $3.9 million on ads for Truvada and Atripla, respectively, both HIV medications.

The FTC says the ads in question have sensational warnings or alerts that can fool a viewer into thinking they are government-sanctioned medical alerts or public service announcements.

It also says one of the fields of drugs with problematic advertising is blood-thinners. A few years ago, an FDA official reported that 61 people stopped taking their Xarelto or Pradaxa after seeing commercials from lawyers.

Of that group, six people died – three from strokes, one from cardiac arrest, one from a pulmonary embolism and one from an unreported cause.

The American Medical Association even adopted a policy in 2016 that attorney commercials should include “appropriate” and “conspicuous” warnings.

“These ads describe only the lethal side effects and not the benefits of the medications that many patients have experienced -- but this is not explained to the viewers,” the AMA said.

A popular drug for lawyers then was Xarelto, which dominated the drugs and medical devices field studied by X Ante. In an 18-month span in 2015-16, there were 168,000 Xarelto ads.

Ultimately, more than 27,000 Xarelto lawsuits were part of a global settlement of $775 million. Johnson & Johnson and Bayer settled despite overwhelming success in the first six trials.

From Legal Newsline: Reach editor John O’Brien at

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X AnteUS Federal Trade Commission