AUSTIN – A self-proclaimed consumer protection group has launched an all out offensive on SB 1189 – a bill aimed at bringing accountability and transparency to lawyer ads trolling for prescription medication users.
Texas Watch, a group heavily supported by trial lawyers, is asking Lone Star residents to “fight back against Big Pharma” by signing a petition against SB 1189, which, according to Texas Watch, “chills and suppresses warnings to consumers about dangerous drugs.”
SB 1189 does not stop attorney health care advertisements, but does require that such ads warn viewers that it’s dangerous to stop taking a prescribed medication before consulting a physician.
Proponents of the bill argue lawyers sometimes employ scare tactics or use false information in their ads, which can lead people to stop taking their essential medications.
SB 1189 would grant authority to impose fines on lawyers who market deceptive ads.
While supporters of the bill call such measures “commonsense” measures, Texas Watch is linking SB 1189 to the opioid the crisis.
“Over 200,000 Americans have been killed by prescription opioid overdoses since OxyContin was unleashed on the market,” Texas Watch states on its website. “Despite this, some lawmakers are pushing SB 1189, which makes it harder for you to receive warnings about dangerous drugs.
"Drug companies would love nothing more than to escape accountability for their wrongdoing."
Hundreds of opioid lawsuits have been filed across the nation, most of which were brought on behalf of governmental entities.
The Record unearthed many communications showing Texas attorneys scrambled to solicit county and city officials all over the state for such suits – bombarding them with PowerPoint presentations and meeting requests, not attorney paid ads that warned viewers on the dangers of opioids.
Lawyer health care ads usually target individual users of a specific drug, like Abilify for example, which is used to treat schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and depression.
“Attention Abilify users. Abilify has been linked to pathological gambling,” states an ad released by Sokolove Law. “If you or a loved one developed an uncontrollable gambling problem while taking Abilify, you may be entitled to compensation.”
Texans for Lawsuit Reform, a group openly supporting the bill, believes the Texas Legislature is right to protect Texans from “client harvesters.”
“Texans deserve transparency in advertising, whether that’s for a prescription drug, legal services or any other product,” said Lucy Nashed, a spokesperson for TLR. “The deceptive attorney advertising addressed by SB 1189 is designed to do one thing – sign up clients with lawyers, even if that means falsely giving the impression that the ads are supported by medical experts.”
Nashed says lawyers are not doctors, but through their advertising, some are interfering with the doctor-patient relationship, which can sometimes lead to deadly consequences.
A 2016 survey, conducted on behalf of Texans Against Lawsuit Abuse, found that 82 percent of doctors believe that such ads can lead to patients not taking their medications as prescribed.
“SB 1189 allows truthful and transparent lawyer advertising without putting the health of Texans at risk,” Nashed said. “The Legislature is right to protect Texans from client harvesters and attorneys who are creating a public health crisis to generate clients.”
Texas television viewers were inundated by more than 190,000 advertisements for legal services in the state’s three largest media markets over a six-month period last year, according to a recent report by the American Tort Reform Association.
The study examined the prevalence of legal advertising in Houston, Dallas, and San Antonio, and found that legal services accounted for a staggering $23.4 million in ad buys during the period studied.
Comparing legal services ads to other common ad categories, the study found that viewers in Houston saw more than 19 lawsuit ads for every pizza ad, while San Antonio viewers saw more than 11 times as many legal ads than ads for hardware stores.
Texas Watch did not return a request for comment.