MAKERS of popular allergy drug Claritin accused by consumer groups of false advertising

Thursday, August 9th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Several consumer groups filed a lawsuit Thursday against the makers of Claritin, the nation's most widely prescribed allergy drug, alleging that ads mailed to consumers make bold claims of relief that are not true.

The plaintiffs alleged that the drug company, Schering-Plough, has boosted its sales with the ads, despite research they contend shows Claritin works only 50 percent of the time.

Schering-Plough denied the claims, retorting that no amount of advertising could sustain a drug that does not work.

The Prescription Access Litigation project, a Boston-based consumer group, is the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit. The group did not ask for a specific amount in damages.

``This is not a mere oversight,'' said Stephen Rosenfeld, a spokesman for the group. ``We believe Schering-Plough has deliberately left out information about the drug's efficacy, instead serving up glowing ads to push this product in America's living rooms. The ads are misleading and designed to fool the public into paying top dollar for a drug that often as not, just doesn't work.''

The lawsuit cites studies performed or requisitioned by Schering-Plough that Rosenfeld says prove Claritin works only half the time. Yet, Schering-Plough advertisements make ``numerous statements of unqualified and absolute effectiveness and no mention of the limited usefulness of Claritin products,'' the lawsuit states.

Schering-Plough officials said any claims that the company's advertisements break the law are false, but would not comment on the research.

``All advertisements are under regulation established by the Food and Drug Administration,'' said Denise Foy, a spokeswoman for Schering-Plough. ``Claritin remains the nation's leading allergy drug because it works. No drug could remain this popular if it did not work, nor would physicians prescribe such a drug.''

Consumer groups have long accused the drug industry of making unsubstantiated claims in direct-to-consumer advertisements, or mailers. Thomas Sobol, an attorney representing the consumer groups suing Schering-Plough, says the suit is not a shot against mailers.

``We understand that the law allows these types of ads,'' Sobol said. ``But when these ads blatantly trick the public into spending money on something that is no more effective than a sugar pill, that is unfair.''

Other plaintiffs include Citizen Action New York, Citizen Action New Jersey, Health Action New Mexico and several individuals who used the drug.