Americans' Uncertainty Over Drugs

At least a third of Americans believe that the FDA only approves drugs that are extremely effective and have no serious side effects.

A study revealed that Americans may not be aware of uncertainties about drug benefits and harms, according to a report in the Archives of Internal Medicine. Also, many adults believe that the Food and Drug Administration only approves drugs that are very effective or without serious side effects.

The article points out that uncertainties about drugs are greatest in the first years after they are approved, during which time the drugs are on the market. The authors used Zetia and Vytorin, two cholesterol-lowering drugs, as an example. Both drugs were found to have no clinical benefit, but not before sales exceeded $1 billion.

The study revealed that a quarter of participants believed the FDA wouldn’t approve a drug if it had serious side effects and a third believed the agency would only approve “extremely effective” drugs.

Participants were given some hypothetical drugs to choose and split into three groups, each given different information. For the most part, participants chose the drug for which there was less uncertainty.

Overall, the authors recommended that the FDA communicates what it does and doesn’t know about the efficacy of drugs, even if it’s just a brief explanation in a TV advertisement.

“There are important gaps in what people know about prescription drugs — gaps that undoubtedly contribute to the rapid uptake of drugs despite uncertainty about benefit and harm,” the authors wrote.