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Stewart White
Stewart White
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Advice on Avoiding Bad Prescription Drugs

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After a few years in this business of representing patients/clients who have been injured by defective drugs, it appears that:
1. The FDA doesn’t protect consumers, though it might try
2. All should know that the FDA doesn’t test drugs
3. The drug companies are in it for profit first, helping people second (no surprise)
4. You shouldn’t take any new drug until it has been out on the market for at least 5 years, being tested on others.

1. The FDA does try to protect the consumer, but there’s just too much money (from the Drug companies) against it. There are just not enough employees there to catch all the bad drugs, and to catch all the lies the drug companies constantly tell them, and certainly not enough brave employees at the FDA willing to tell the truth if it is against the best interest of the drug companies. There are some, but not enough.

2. Most people think that a particular drug wouldn’t be out there, being advertised and prescribed by doctors, if it had not been tested and found to be safe by the FDA. People think the FDA tests drugs. The FDA doesn’t test any drug at all. The current system has the drug companies doing all the testing on the new drug before it is submitted to the FDA for approval. So, we have to “trust” the drug companies to tell the truth. Fat chance. There have been instances, as with Vioxx, where the companies “fudged” on the test data they submitted to the FDA, to make the drug appear safer than it really was. In fact, a major scientific journal roundly criticized the makers of Vioxx for misleading the FDA in the approval process. The current system has the fox watching the henhouse.

3. Profit is good. All of us love profit. It is part of the American way, and capitalism is what makes this such a great country. But, the drug companies are obviously in it far more for profit than they are in it for the best interests of the patients. It seems to have become much worse now that they allow all that advertising for drugs on t.v. and magazines, etc. When the profit motive overcomes the need to make safe drugs, it’s the customers that pay.
The drug companies think of it as just a cost of doing business. This is how they think: We’ll make a drug, with some bad side effects (heck, ALL drugs have side effects), not warn of the side effects or water the warning down so much that no one will notice it, and make a lot of money. We’ll make $10Billion dollars over 5 years until the dangers make us withdraw it from the market. Then, when we get sued and have to give back $4Billion of those dollars to all the people whose lives we’ve ruined, we are still ahead by $6Billion. AND, we can yell about needing “tort reform” and “evil personal injury attorneys” costing us so much money we’d otherwise spend on research, to boot. Good deal.”
Some of you may have read in the paper about the latest assault on the FDA and drug safety. The drug companies now are trying to get the FDA to allow them to sell doctors on “off label” uses of existing drugs. This “off label use” is using a drug approved by the FDA for only one thing, like arthritis, to treat something else entirely, like migraines. This is just amazing. In fact, since right now the FDA doesn’t allow this, drug companies have to do more tests on their drug to ensure it is safe for another not-yet-approved use. And, it is often in this “more testing” phase that the drug companies confirm already known dangers of thier drug that they’ve been withholding from the FDA and the public. That was what happened with Vioxx. Merck was testing it for another use besides for arthritis. Merck wanted to see if it also reduced colon polyps (precursors to colon cancer) as they believed, so they could market it for that too, as an “on label” use. Merck instead confirmed in that test very clearly what they already knew, that Vioxx caused many more heart attacks than the comparison drug. This caused Merck finally to voluntarily withdraw Vioxx from the market. Now, the proposal is to let them market the drugs for “off label” use without prior approval of the FDA. Amazing what they will do to earn even more profit at the expense of their customers.

4. I think the best thing to do to protect yourself and your loved ones from defective drugs is this: Don’t take any drug that has not been on the market for at least 5 years. The next time your doctor prescribes you a drug (even if you’ve taken it before), ask him how long it has been on the market. If it hasn’t been on the market for 5 years, ask him to prescribe you another, older drug. If he doesn’t know, before you fill the prescription, google the drug and find out when it came on the market. It seems like it takes about 5 years of testing on 100’s of thousands of people before the real side effects (that the company generally already knew about but withheld or downplayed) become widely known. That was the case with Vioxx, and with Viagra, and with some others I cannot remember right now. Let someone else be the guinea pig, not you. Of course, there are drugs that have been out for over 5 years that are still later found defective (like Hormone Replacement Therapy, or phenylpropanolamine), but at least the 5 year rule would cover most of the defective drugs.

Thanks, Stewart White, Reno, NV office of White Meany & Wetherall.