Senators from both sides of the political aisle are calling on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to take action against the marketing of prescription drugs on social media, citing a proliferation of dangerous and misleading content by telehealth companies. 

In a letter to FDA Commissioner Robert Califf, Sens. Dick Durbin (D., Ill.) and Mike Braun (R, Ind.) criticized the FDA for not updating its guidance on prescription-drug promotion on social media for about a decade, saying “there are gaping holes in the FDA’s oversight.” The letter cited findings from a Wall Street Journal investigation published in 2022 about misleading ads by telehealth companies.

The senators included a list of about a dozen questions related to its prescription-drug advertising policies. They requested that the FDA address the questions by March 27.

An FDA spokeswoman said the FDA will respond directly to the senators. A Meta Platforms META -2.26%decrease; red down pointing triangle

spokesman said advertisers are responsible for complying with all laws and regulations. TikTok didn’t respond to requests for comment.

During the pandemic, telehealth companies such as Cerebral and Done Global flooded social media with ads about medical conditions such as attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. In some cases, companies also pushed prescription drugs as treatments. Companies have said they are making much-needed services more accessible.

The Journal reported that the telehealth companies have been advertising on social media largely outside FDA rules that govern drugmakers. During a four-week period, the Journal found that about 20 telehealth companies ran more than 2,100 ads on Facebook and Instagram that described benefits of prescription drugs without citing risks, promoted drugs for uses not approved by the FDA or featured testimonials without disclosing whether they came from actors or company employees. 

Some telehealth employees and patients said in interviews that such practices have contributed to the abuse of controlled substances such as Adderall, a powerful stimulant used to treat ADHD.

In the letter, lawmakers asked whether the FDA would back legislation to close any possible regulatory gaps in its oversight of telehealth companies, if the agency believes such loopholes exist. The Journal previously reported that many telehealth companies have argued they aren’t subject to FDA advertising rules because they aren’t drug manufacturers, packers or distributors.

The senators said the proliferation of drug advertisements on social-media platforms puts children and patients at risk, and urged the FDA to take additional action to police the promotion of drugs by paid influencers and celebrities who post videos on those platforms. The Journal investigation highlighted several such videos on TikTok, including one by an influencer promoting a worksheet on how to obtain an ADHD diagnosis.

Last month, tech company chief executives faced bipartisan criticism during a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee from senators who said the platforms should bear legal responsibility when children are hurt. The sessions included stories of mental-health struggles and sexual exploitation. Sen. Durbin is the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee.