We're All Guinea Pigs; PILL PROBLEM: EXPERTS SPEAK OUT ABOUT THE RISKS OF EVERYDAY DRUGS

By Wrottesley, Catriona | Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland), March 29, 2000 | Go to article overview

We're All Guinea Pigs; PILL PROBLEM: EXPERTS SPEAK OUT ABOUT THE RISKS OF EVERYDAY DRUGS


Wrottesley, Catriona, Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)


THIS month sees the launch of Sonata, a new sleeping pill which claims to avoid many of the unpleasant side effects of previous brands.

The manufacturers, Wyeth, say a patient can even take the pill in the middle of the night because it will have disappeared from your system within just four hours.

It sounds promising, but one big question is left unanswered - will this drug get you hooked as previous generations of sleeping pills have done?

A spokesperson for Wyeth has said: "It would appear to have less potential for causing dependency."

But there are concerns that side-effects such as addiction are not fully investigated during trials before this type of drugs go on the market.

It takes years to develop drugs, and they have to go through many authorities in a long process to get a licence. But the trials themselves are often very short.

Lynne McTaggart of What Doctors Don't Tell You, a consumer group which provides information about the risks and problems of modern medicine, revealed: "There is nothing to say how long a trial must be, but the average lasts only three weeks."

Doctors can report patients' adverse reactions to drugs through a `yellow card' scheme. But it seems the system is far less efficient than it should be.

Charles Medawar, director of Social Audit, a consumer research body specialising in medicines, said: "It is completely unacceptable to market drugs which have not been thoroughly tested for their dependence potential.

"The scandal is the pretence that what you see is what there is.

"The Medicines Control Agency (MCA) and Committee for Safety of Medicines (CSM) behave as if the number of reports of adverse drug reactions they get are in some way an indication of the magnitude of the problem. But GPs are under no obligation to fill in the cards. Only between one in 100 and one in 1000 are reported to the MCA."

Dr Jamie Inglis, consultant in public health and medical adviser for the Health Education Board for Scotland (HEBS), says it is important to be cautious of new tablets.

He points out it took the medical profession many years to realise just how addictive the benzodiazepine class of drugs, which includes Valium and Temazepam, were.

He said: "By then, many millions of people had been taking them for many years. Our history and experience of sleeping tablets is that possibly all of them are addictive, even after a relatively short period of time.

"Addiction to tranquillisers is the largest hidden drug problem in the country. There are a lot more people addicted to prescribed drugs than to heroin."

However, the industry insists that we should be proud of the UK's rigorous control over drug safety and licensing. …

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