MYTH #3: Prescription Drugs Are Guaranteed Safe
It sure looks that way on the slick ads that fill the airwaves and magazines. As we noted earlier in this chapter, however, about 10 percent of prescription drugs that hit the market are later discovered to cause serious side effects that didn’t turn up in clinical trials. With that in mind, you might think that pharmaceutical companies would want to keep close track of whether people become ill when they take new drugs the companies market. In fact, the FDA requires them to do just that. Yet drug companies fail to perform these follow-up studies 70 percent of the time, says Paul Brown, a consumer health advocate with the US Public Interest Research Group.
That’s why Merrill Goozner recommends that you change the channel or turn the page when you see an advertisement for a new drug. Goozner is director of the Integrity in Science project for the Center for Science in the Public Interest (another consumer watchdog group) and author of The $800 Million Pill: The Truth Behind the Cost of New Drugs. “There is no place for those ads in the practice of medicine,” he says.
That doesn’t mean new drugs have no value. If there are currently no medications available to treat your condition, and there’s solid evidence that a new medication is effective without causing intolerable side effects, the new drug could offer some hope. However, if a heavily hyped new drug would merely replace a medication that’s currently working well for you, then why switch and expose yourself to unknown risk? If your doctor recommends doing so, ask why.