Americans Value the Health Benefits of Prescription Drugs, But Say Drug makers Put Profits First, New Survey Shows

February 25, 2005

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Craig Palosky or Sarah Carkhuff: (202) 347-5270


Public Shows Confidence In The FDA’s Ability
To Ensure Drug Safety

Americans believe prescription drugs are improving their lives, but most also say that the drug industry cares more about profits than people, according to the latest Kaiser Health Poll Report issued by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Nearly eight in 10 (78%) adults say that prescription drugs have had a positive impact on the lives of Americans, and nine in 10 (91%) say that drug companies make an important contribution to society by researching and developing new drugs, the new survey finds based on February polling. However, seven in 10 (70%) say drug companies put profits ahead of people, compared with about a quarter (24%) who say drug companies are most concerned with developing new drugs that save lives and improve quality of life.

People also blame drug companies for rising health-care costs. Nearly six in 10 (59%) say prescription drugs increase overall medical costs because they are so expensive – compared with less than one in four (23%) who say drugs lower medical costs by reducing the need for expensive medical procedures and hospitalizations. These results are consistent with an earlier poll showing that people are now more likely to cite drug company profits as the major cause of rising health-care costs than any other cause – with 69% of people saying it is a “very important” factor, including 24% saying it is “the most important factor.” More people cited drug company profits as the most important factor than cited greed and waste in the health-care system (20%), the number of malpractice lawsuits (20%), the aging of the population (7%) or the use of expensive, high-tech medical equipment and treatments (7%).

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

Overall, one half (50%) of all Americans say they have an unfavorable view of drug companies, while 44% say they have a favorable opinion. Drug companies are viewed more favorably than oil companies (36% favorable) and tobacco companies (17%), but less than doctors (82% favorable), hospitals (78%) and banks (75%).

The survey’s other key findings include:

  • Americans express confidence in the ability of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to ensure the safety of prescription drugs, with about three-quarters (77%) of adults saying they are “very” (22%) or “somewhat” (55%) confident in the FDA’s ability to ensure drug safety. Just over two in 10 (22%) say they are “not too” or “not at all” confident in the FDA. When asked about the past few years, six in 10 (62%) say that their confidence in the FDA’s ability to ensure safety has “remained the same;” while 27% say their confidence has decreased; and 8% say their confidence has increased.
    “Recent controversy over the safety of a few popular drugs has yet to shift public perception of the FDA,” said Mollyann Brodie, Ph.D., Foundation Vice President and Director of Public Opinion and Media Research. “Most people continue to express confidence in the FDA’s ability to ensure the safety of prescription drugs.”

  • Almost two-thirds (65%) say there should be more government regulation limiting the price of prescription drugs, compared with 14% who say there is too much regulation. Nearly half (46%) of all adults continue to support more regulation of prices even if they heard that it might lead to less research and development of new drugs, while 15% would switch to oppose more regulation after hearing this argument.

  • In 2005, most adults (90%) have seen or heard advertisements for prescription medications, up from 2000 when about three in four adults (76%) said they had seen drug ads. Just over one-quarter of people who have seen drug ads (26%, or 23% of all adults) say they have talked to a doctor about a specific prescription medication as a result of an advertisement. Of those who talked to a doctor as a result of an ad, three out of four (75%, or 18% of all adults) say they received a prescription for either the advertised drug or another drug as a result.

  • About half say there should be more regulation of drug advertising (51%) and drug safety (50%). These shares have increased since 2000 when just over one-third said there should be more regulation of drug advertising (37%) and drug safety (36%).

  • Half (50%) of U.S. adults report taking a prescription drug daily.

Prescription drugs account for a modest but rapidly growing share of the nation’s health-care expenses. In 2003, the nation spent an estimated $179 billion on prescription drugs, nearly 11% of all health-care spending in the U.S. Since 1993, prescription drug spending has increased faster each year than spending on hospitals or physician services.

The new survey data on attitudes toward drugs and the pharmaceutical industry comes from the latest Kaiser Health Poll Report, a bi-monthly tracking poll that captures the public’s views on health-care issues. The survey of 1,201 U.S. adults was conducted from Feb. 3-6.

The current report’s featured topic analyzes the new data, as well as related polling information from earlier surveys by Kaiser and other organizations. The full report is available at


The Kaiser Family Foundation Health Poll Report Survey was designed and analyzed by researchers at the Kaiser Family Foundation. Fieldwork was conducted by telephone by Princeton Survey Research Associates International between February 3 and February 6, 2005, among a nationally representative random sample of 1,201 adults ages 18 and older. The margin of sampling error for the survey is plus or minus 3 percentage points for total respondents. For results based on smaller subsets of respondents the margin of sampling error is higher. Note that sampling error is only one of many potential sources of error in this or any other public opinion poll.

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The Kaiser Family Foundation is a non-profit, private operating foundation dedicated to providing information and analysis on health care issues to policymakers, the media, the health care community, and the general public. The foundation is not associated with Kaiser Permanente or Kaiser Industries.

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