The Truth about Prescription Drugs

Posted: 23rd January 2012 by thea9693 in Nutrition

by Lara Rosenbaum

How much do you think the prescription drugs you take help you? Chances are, you’re giving them too much credit. Most people assume medications work better than they do—and worse, the average person isn’t aware of a drug’s limited benefits—New Hampshire researchers recently found.

According to the study, 39 percent of adults surveyed believed FDA-approved drugs to be “extremely effective,” and 25 percent believed the FDA only approves drugs without side effects. Newsflash: Neither is true.

“Most people don’t realize that to garner FDA approval, a drug company only has to show the medication is better than nothing and the benefit outweighs harm,” says study co-author, Steven Woloshin, M.D., Professor of Medicine, Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice. “The initial studies are also often conducted over a short period of time—usually 6 months.”

Take, for example, the sleep aid Lunesta. While it’s been proven to help people fall asleep faster than if they’d taken a placebo, it only helped folks snooze 15 minutes faster, Dr. Woloshin says. Yep. And those who took the drug experienced side effects, like feeling drowsier the next day.

Dr. Woloshin has been working to get new “fact boxes” approved by the FDA, which feature clear, diagnosis-specific information on a drug’s benefits and risks so that you can be more informed. Until that happens, it’s up to you to talk with your doc, says Michael Steinman, M.D., associate professor of medicine at the San Francisco VA Medical Center. He suggests these steps to help you choose wisely:

  • DIY research. Dr. Steinman suggests using MedlinePlus, a service provided by the U.S. National Library of Medicine. Browse by drug to learn the side effects, dosage instructions, and drug interactions.
  • Know your needs. Some drugs treat a surrogate outcome, like high blood pressure. “If possible, choose one which has been shown to prevent an actual outcome, like a heart attack, stroke, or even death,” Dr. Steinman says.
  • Older drugs can be safer. “It can take 3 to 5 years for serious side effects to show up (and for a medication to be pulled), and sometimes even 7,” Dr. Steinman explains. “Ask how long the drug has been on the market.”
  • Remind your doctor what you’re taking. Says Dr. Steinman, “If you experience any negative health changes while taking medication, remind your doctor of your prescription. Sometimes doctors diagnose a new illness rather than see it as a side effect.”

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