Undermining Drug Safety; the Media/political Ambulance Chasers

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), December 18, 2006 | Go to article overview

Undermining Drug Safety; the Media/political Ambulance Chasers


Byline: Robert Goldberg, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Recently the Food and Drug Administration updated its warning on the use of oral sodium phosphate products (OSPs) as a cause of kidney failure. What are OSPs? If you had a colonoscopy as I did, you drank an OSP to clear the way for your inspection. In 1998, the FDA limited the OSP bottle size to no more than 90 ml. People were going into toxic shock and dying because they were told to use a bottle of the preparation and used a 240 ml jug instead of the 45 ml or 90 ml container. The FDA just updated warning labels about exceeding recommended doses since OSP-related kidney failure is still a problem.

It seems inconceivable that you or I could find a way to take lifesaving drugs and turn them into lethal weapons. But most drugs and devices wind up causing side effects because of the human inability to follow directions. Indeed, safety problems with drug-coated heart stents boil down to this: Don't put them in patients with really blocked arteries who stop taking clot-busting medicine. The fact is, coated-stent use will be restricted, as it is with many drugs and devices, because we can't be trusted to do as we are told.

This picture of incompetence clashes with the one politicians and the Institute of Medicine peddle to the media of an FDA and drug industry rushing to approve and market medicines without regard to product safety. But a Centers for Disease Control report found that misuse and overuse of a handful of old medicines cause most dangerous side effects. Hundreds of thousands of emergency-room visits occur because of adverse drug events. The CDC notes that "Sixteen of the 18 drugs most commonly linked to adverse drug events in the study have been in clinical use for more than 20 years." The most common drug classes were insulin, painkillers containing opioids, anticlotting drugs (including aspirin), drugs containing the antibiotic amoxicillin and cold remedies.

Yet, the media and politicians pick on pills that are well known rather than risky. Ambien is a classic example. Ambien became famous (or infamous) when Rep. Patrick Kennedy claimed he crashed his car because it caused him to drive while sleeping. Thereafter, Ambien became the target of major articles in the New York Times and Washington Post for being linked to sleeping while shoplifting, midnight snacking, etc. In fact, as the folks at blogcritics.org point out: "In 2004, over 24 million prescriptions for Ambien were written. Let's say that each contained 30 pills. That's 740 million times people took this sinister drug in 2004. …

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