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I'm Rob Logan, Ph.D., senior staff, U.S. National Library of Medicine (NLM).
Here is what's new this week in To Your Health, a consumer health oriented podcast from NLM, that helps you use MedlinePlus to follow up on weekly topics.
The risks of U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved medications should be explained with the same dexterity as promoting its benefits by direct-to-consumer advertisers, suggests an interesting perspective recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
The perspective's two authors remind us that the U.S. and New Zealand are the only two nations that permit direct-to-consumer advertising of prescription drugs in print, broadcast, and Internet mass media.
The authors, who are from the Johns Hopkins University Medical School, and the Medical School at the University of California-San Francisco, explain ubiquitous mass media advertising that extols a prescription drug's advantages often embeds a less inspired effort to explain a drug's risks.
Although the authors acknowledge medication risks are included in contemporary direct-to-consumer advertising, the authors note these explanations often are less clear, coherent, and inspiring than accompanying descriptions about a drug's benefits. For example, the authors write the pitch about a drug's strengths within newspaper and magazine ads is (and we quote) 'followed by another page of fine print in which its contraindications, risks, and side effects are spelled out in minute detail and equally minute print' (end of quote).
Similarly, the authors imply the discussion of medication risks is rushed towards the end of video commercials after a drug's virtues are skillfully staged.
However, the authors explain there is a fresh opportunity to insist on a clear explanation about drug risks because of a pending change in the FDA's direct-to-consumer advertising policies.
The authors note (and we quote): 'the FDA proposes that drug marketers use a new consumer brief summary focused on the most important risk information' (end of quote).
Although the authors support the pending changes, they explain since the start of the FDA in 1938, prior federal regulations (intended to enhance the clarity and transparency about a drug's risks) have been compromised by lobbying and occasionally via disagreements about how to best provide consumer risk information.
For example, in the 1970s the authors write (and we quote): 'there was no clear consensus on how best to provide risk information to patients' (end of quote) about birth control pills within patient package inserts. The authors suggest the inability to reach agreement about birth control pills (as well as other examples) set back the cause established by the FDA in 1938 to: (and we quote) 'provide labels that provided adequate directions for use and adequate warnings to protect users from harm' (end of quote).
In order to do better problem this time, the authors imply all parties involved in direct-to-consumer advertising should rededicate themselves to endorsing the principle of insightful risk communication that is now almost eight decades old.
More positively, the authors write (and we quote)' For all its capacity to encourage overdiagnosis and overmedication, DTCA's (direct-to-consumer advertising's) virtue is that it treats consumers as people who deserve to know something about the compounds they take into their bodies' (end of quote). After 30 years of direct-to-consumer advertising, the authors suggest all parties should endorse skillful communication and strategies that create a more balanced and illuminating presentation about medication risks and benefits.
Meanwhile, MedlinePlus.gov's drugs and supplements information explains many of the risks and benefits of prescription and over-the-counter medications in consumer-friendly language. The information within MedlinePlus.gov's drug and supplements section clearly answers basic questions such as, why is the medication prescribed, what side effects can this medication cause, and what special precautions should be followed? You can find MedlinePlus.gov's extensive drug information section by clicking on 'drugs and supplements,' which is just below the banner on MedlinePlus.gov's home page.
The drug and supplements section also contains helpful information about vitamins and food supplements within the same format.
In addition, a website that helps you think through the risks versus the benefits of medications (from the FDA) is available within the 'start here' section of MedlinePlus.gov's medicines health topic page. Similarly, a website from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (also found in the 'start here' section) provides more evidence-based information about taking medications safely and more effectively.
MedlinePlus.gov's medicines health topic page additionally provides links to the latest pertinent journal research articles, which are available in the 'journal articles' section. You can sign up to receive updates about medicines as they become available on MedlinePlus.gov.
To find MedlinePlus.gov's medicines health topic page type 'medicines' in the search box on MedlinePlus.gov's home page, then, click on 'medicines (National Library of Medicine).'
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