Abbott Seeks to Suppress AHF’s Ads in Gay Papers

Move Seen as Attempt to Silence AIDS Healthcare Foundation's Free Speech & Ongoing Criticism of 400% Price Hike on Norvir

By AIDS Healthcare Foundation
04/08/2004

In a brazen attempt to silence AIDS advocates’ ongoing criticism of Abbott Laboratories over its recent 400% price hike on the key AIDS drug Norvir, two prominent gay publications are buckling under pressure from Abbott to refuse to run, or significantly alter, a parody advertisement created by AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) that spoofs the drug giant’s media spin on their unprecedented price hike on Norvir.

AHF, the largest AIDS organization in the United States, had crafted and placed the ad parodying Abbott in three gay publications of national prominence: The Windy City Times in Chicago, Frontiers Newsmagazine in Los Angeles and the Washington Blade in Washington, DC. Each publication has run a prior version of the ad.

The Windy City Times, a Chicago area weekly gay newspaper, which twice previously ran a version of the ad as a ‘blow in’ insert in its March 24 and March 31 editions, currently has put off running a new version of the ad, citing a concern that the parody ad uses images from Abbott’s own advertisement.

In addition, AHF has received reports that Abbott will pull its own Norvir Patient Assistance Program print advertisement [the ad that gave rise to the parody] from an upcoming issue of Frontiers Newsmagazine, which previously ran the AHF ad as a ‘blow in’ in its April 9 issue, vol #22, issue #25, if that Frontiers issue were also to include AHF’s Norvir parody ad.

AHF’s print ad parodies a four-color Abbott print ad that is currently running in targeted gay press outlets nationwide in which Abbott announces, ‘Expanded Access to Norvir, …at no cost…’ on the heels of the company’s instituting perhaps the largest single price increase ever on an existing drug. In the latest version, the parody ad invites people to join in a picket over the price hike that is taking place before Abbott’s Annual General Meeting on Friday April 23, in Abbott Park, Illinois.

“Abbott Laboratories appears to be attempting to intimidate the gay and AIDS communities in a brazen move to stifle AHF’s outspoken criticism of Abbott by pressuring the Windy City Times and Frontiers to reject or alter our ad,” said Michael Weinstein , AIDS Healthcare Foundation President. “It was bad enough for Abbott to hike the price on its eight year-old drug by 400%. Now, they are trying to tamp down AIDS advocates’ free speech rights. AHF will continue to run this parody ad to bring attention to Abbott’s outrageous actions both on the drug’s pricing as well as Abbott’s statements and actions surrounding this price increase. I urge both the publishers and the gay and AIDS communities at large to fight back against Abbott’s bald-faced, punitive attempt at censorship.”

Two weeks ago, AIDS Healthcare Foundation unveiled the print advertising campaign in order to call attention to and spoof Abbott’s recent public relations spin and damage control efforts regarding the drug giant’s 400% price hike on Norvir. The Chicago-based drug company tried to quietly roll out the unprecedented price hike in early December, but the sheer magnitude of the price increase on the eight year-old drug caused widespread outrage and prompted an ongoing campaign of activism against Abbott that has included physician protests and boycotts of the company, the filing of antitrust and false advertising lawsuits against Abbott by AHF, and the opening of investigations by Attorneys General in at least two states – Illinois and New York.

“We tweaked and spoofed Abbott’s ad into what it really should announce: the ‘expanded greed of Abbott’,” said Michael Weinstein , AIDS Healthcare Foundation President. “Abbott’s ‘patient assistance program’ offering free drugs would not be necessary if they hadn’t raised the price in the first place, so we saw their ad as more of a ‘profit assistance program’ for Abbott. We are outraged that Abbott is now trying to intimidate the gay community’s media outlets. But the move also underscores our firm belief that Abbott does not really care about the impact of this drug price hike or if AIDS patients actually get information about Abbott’s so-called patient assistance programs.”

The ads first began appearing as a “blow in” supplement in the March 24th edition of the Windy City Times in Chicago; they appeared later last week in Frontiers Newsmagazine and The Washington Blade. The Abbott ad has an illustration of several dancers dancing with arms outstretched atop of the world. The AHF parody ad shows the dancers throwing money in the air and has added two graveyard headstones near silhouettes of other dancers.

AHF hopes the ads will serve as an additional catalyst to help raise awareness about the huge price increase on Norvir and prompt Abbott to rescind the increase; short of that, AHF hopes the ads will prompt Abbott to truly show how it will indemnify state Medicaid programs – if at all – against any associated price increases.

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