With prescription drugs, newer is not necessarily better
If you think the prescription drugs advertised on television are the best treatments medical science has to offer, think again.
They are the newest, certainly, and the most expensive. But are they the most effective and the most safe? Possibly not.
Remember Vioxx (rofecoxib)? A wildly popular—and extensively and expensively advertised—pain reliever, it made billions of dollars for Merck Pharmaceuticals.
It also, by conservative estimate, contributed to 60,000 deaths during the 5 years it was on the market. And it wasn’t even much better at relieving pain!
Vioxx has become the poster child for bad drugs, but it is certainly not the only prescription medication that has followed a similar course. Just read Overdosed America: The Broken Promise of American Medicine by John Abramson, MD.
New drugs are launched with multi-million dollar ad campaigns that encourage as many physicians (they receive advertising, too, but in the form of medical journals—that’s a story for another post) and patients as possible to write or ask for a prescription.
And it works. A study published in JAMA Internal Medicine this month reports that “approximately 4 of 10 physicians report that they sometimes or often prescribe a brand-name drug to a patient when a generic is available because the patient wanted it.”
According to the Institute of Medicine, however, “It is a widely held misperception that FDA approval of a new drug denotes a guarantee of safety and certainty about its risk-benefit profile.”
In other words, take it at your own risk.
The seven-year rule
I like the “seven-year rule” advocated by Public Citizen, a national research-based advocacy organization in Washington, DC.
Public Citizen’s director, Dr. Sidney Wolfe, says “To take a drug in the first seven years it’s on the market is really to be a participant in an experiment.”
Since 2002, Public Citizen’s Health Research Group has recommended:
You should wait at least seven years from the date of release to take any new drug unless it is one of those rare ‘breakthrough’ drugs that offers you a documented therapeutic advantage over older proven drugs. New drugs are tested in a relatively small number of people before being released, and serious adverse effects or life-threatening drug interactions may not be detected until the new drug has been taken by hundreds of thousands of people. A number of new drugs have been withdrawn within their first seven years after release. Also, warnings about serious new adverse reactions have been added to the labeling of a number of drugs, or new drug interactions have been detected, usually within the first seven years after a drug’s release.
Ignore the over-promises of the commercials. Don’t automatically demand the newest drug on the market. Have a conversation with your physician about which older and cheaper drugs are available—drugs with a proven track record of safety and effectiveness.
Related Reading from WebMD: “Reports of adverse drug effects up: Increase is ’cause for alarm’ researchers say”
Remember, pharmaceutical companies are not in business to improve your health; their single intention is to make a profit for their shareholders.