Amid mounting criticism of advertising drugs directly to consumers, Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. pledged not promote any of its new medicines directly to patients for at least a year.

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NEW YORK — Amid mounting criticism of advertising drugs directly to consumers, Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. pledged not promote any of its new medicines directly to patients for at least a year.


It is believed to be the first company to make such a promise but many drug makers have been changing the tenor of their advertising in the wake of rising complaints from various parties including doctors, patients and lawmakers about the amount and accuracy of the advertising. The pharmaceutical industry is working on a voluntary code of conduct for drug ads that could be released as early as next month.


“Based on feed back from patients and doctors we are changing our policy,” said Bristol-Myers spokesman Brain Henry. “People have said there is too much consumer advertising and there isn’t enough balance.”


As part of its new advertising code announced today, Bristol-Myers said it would communicate both the risk and benefits of drugs in ways patients can understand. Henry added the new policy would respect the role of doctors but avoiding the problem of patients asking for drugs before physicians fully understand the product.


Bristol-Myers will market the new products to doctors and will develop consumer ads about the condition the medicines treat. Ads will also include, when appropriate, information about programs that assist needy patients who can’t afford medicines.


Henry wouldn’t comment on whether the policy could put its drugs at a disadvantage to competitors or how it might effect the products’ sales. Two months ago, Bristol-Myers launched a new drug for Hepatitis B, a virus that effects the liver. It has a diabetes treatment and rheumatoid arthritis medicines that are expected to be reviewed by regulators later this year.


A study released earlier this year by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that only 18 percent of consumers believe drug ads can be trusted “most of the time.” That’s down by almost half since 1997, when one-third of people surveyed said ads could be trusted most of the time.


Criticism of drug ads has become particularly acute since Vioxx, the Merck & Co. pain reliever, was withdrawn from the market last year after a study showed it doubled patients risk of heart attack and strokes. Vioxx was very heavily advertised and critics say the commercials pushed people to ask for a medicine most really didn’t need.


Since then there has been a shift in drug ads. For example, a commercial for Ortho Evra, a birth control pill made by a unit of Johnson & Johnson, features a frank discussion between a woman and her doctor about potential side effects. Meanwhile, TAP Pharmaceutical Products Inc. pulled nearly $100 million in television advertising for its heartburn drug Prevacid earlier this year to focus on print media that it hopes will better explain the drug’s potential side effects.