WASHINGTON – A public interest group is providing a new way for Americans to find out if the medicines they are taking might be harmful.
Public Citizen released a new edition of a book Wednesday analyzing at least 500 prescription drugs and said almost 200 of them may pose health risks.
Public Citizen also launched a Web site that provides information about unsafe drugs,drug pricing and the entire contents of the just-published book.
The group said Americans should be extra cautious in taking prescription drugs because the Food and Drug Administration approves drugs too quickly despite sometimes-dubious clinical trials.
Dr. Sidney Wolfe,director of Public Citizen's Health Research Group and one of the authors of “Worst Pills,Best Pills,” said the FDA “doesn't do a good job of protecting people from medications that can seriously harm or kill them.”
The removal the arthritis medication Vioxx from the market late last year after its maker admitted increased risks of heart attacks is not enough to shield the FDA from public scrutiny as there are hundreds of drugs still waiting to be reviewed for side effects,Wolfe said.
Public Citizen created a “do not use” list of 181 drugs whose adverse effects the group says make them too dangerous to use. The list includes a dozen bestsellers – the anti-cholesterol drug Crestor; pain relievers Darvon,Bextra and Ultracet; oral contraceptives Yasmin,Desogen and Orthocept; and the weight loss pill Meridia.
Public Citizen estimated that 100,000 people in the United States die annually from drug-induced diseases such as hip fractures,parkinsonism and addiction to tranquilizers.
More than 9.6 million adverse drug reactions occur in older Americans every year. Half of them are not reported to doctors “presumably because patients did not realize the reactions were due to the drug,” the book said.
Drug side effects can remain hidden for quite some time because of the way drugs are tested,said Madison Powers,director of Georgetown University's Kennedy Institute for Bioethics.
“Pharmaceutical companies can shape the trials. They can pick the population they want to ensure efficacy and not really show adverse effects,” he said. He added that the FDA could take steps to improve clinical trial quality by requiring that more patients be tested and other measures.
Wolfe said the public should not use any drug that has been on the market for less than seven years,unless it is a “breakthrough drug,” to allow sufficient time for problems to surface.
“The major drug manufacturers have bombarded consumers with misleading TV and print advertising about prescription drugs,so consumers have a compelling need for unbiased information about safety and effectiveness,” said Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook in a statement. “This effort is part of PC's decades-long commitment to protecting consumers from products that can harm them.”
The American Pharmaceutical Association and Merck & Co. Inc.,the maker of Vioxx,did not return calls asking for comment.
The new Web site is: http://www.worstpills.org