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The One Piece Of Safety Information We Can’t Do Without: What’s MY Risk?

A Wall Street Journal article published earlier this week has generated anpanic.jpeg interesting, but much-needed debate about drug safety information and when it can harm patients.  According to the Journal:

“Too much information about drug safety -- disseminated through media, online alerts from consumer watchdog groups and even by the Food and Drug Administration itself -- might overwhelm patients and raise undue alarm, some medical professionals caution. Consumers may forget about the benefits of a medication if they focus only on risk. And the health consequences associated with stopping a medication, particularly for a chronic condition, may be far worse than the possibility of a side effect.”


Some may violently disagree with this assessment, but there’s some merit to this argument.  Consider what happened when studies indicated that young patients’ risk of suicide may be increased by antidepressant medications.  Prescriptions of these drugs fell and some wondered whether the warnings did more harm than good.

I’ve always believed that people should be provided with more drug safety information.  However, it is useless unless it helps people determine their individual risk and takes into account the severity of the illness the medication is designed to treat.  For example, some patients with muscular sclerosis believe that the risk of liver and brain-related adverse events caused by Tysabri is concerning, but they continue to take it because the medication works very well.  However, patients with diabetes may be less inclined to take a risky medication if they other equally efficacious medications are available.  

I think efforts to improve drug safety information by FDA and companies like Wyeth, Johnson and Johnson and Pfizer are admirable.  However, I believe that the best information will provide patients with a clear sense of their individual risk., is a relatively new Website/social network that provides some interesting and very understandable information about drug risks from the perspective of physicians, regulators and patients.

While too much information can be harmful, the right type is invaluable.

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