The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

Pelley’s Perspective

The Food and Drug Administration announced Tuesday it will establish a new, independent Drug Safety Oversight Board to monitor approved prescription drugs after they are released on the market, according to an Associated Press article.

The board, a direct response to discoveries that drugs such as Merck’s Vioxx and Pfizer’s Celebrex were linked to the increased risk of heart attacks and strokes in a clinical study, is a convenient way for Washington policy makers to appease the consumers they are hired to protect.

The job of the board, according to the article, will be to improve the availability of safety information for patients and healthcare professionals by creating one-sheet informational guides on drugs as well as setting up a Web site with emerging information.

Prescription drug consumers are being short-handed in our country. While it is impossible to turn on the television or open a magazine without being bombarded by advertisements for various drugs, drug companies have not been required to disclose potential side effects in commercials since 1997. Rather, they direct consumers to alternate sources for the critical information.

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Why, one may ask, is a bureaucratic institution like the Drug Safety Oversight Board even necessary?

Consider the $3.5 billion spent annually on direct-to-consumer pharmaceutical advertising in our country. Currently, the United States is one of only two industrialized nations to allow such advertising to occur; the other is New Zealand.

In a country where nearly half the adult population doesn’t bother to vote, we are trusting consumers of health-altering drugs to do their own research regarding side effects.

A January study on how Celebrex and Vioxx were marketed showed more than 70 percent of the patients prescribed the two drugs were at low or very low risk of developing ulcers; the condition that their class – COX-2 inhibitors – was intended to prevent.

Furthermore, a study published in the January Lancet medical journal, estimated that Vioxx alone caused 88,000 to 140,000 cases of serious heart disease.

The author of the marketing study, G. Caleb Alexander of the University of Chicago, said the drugs were heavily marketed to physicians and the public, and pointed to the assumption by both groups that newer is better when it comes to medications.

The FDA, by creating the oversight board, is sidestepping the real problem of consumer and even physician confusion caused by pharmaceutical advertising.

However, the administration dares not do anything about it because an action may offend the big drug companies that help line the pockets of politicians come election time.

Few would dispute the fact that it is expensive to develop new drugs, but when companies such as Merck and Pfizer are spending more than $70 million to advertise drugs that few in the population actually need – which was the case with the COX-2 inhibitors – one should feel little sympathy toward them as costs skyrocket.

If the FDA is so concerned with the safety of pharmaceuticals, why not force companies to redirect funds spent on advertising to additional research on the well-being of patients who have used the drugs? This would save drug consumers money, and may even save a few lives in the process.

Pelleymounter is a senior print journalism and political science major and editorial editor of The Spectator. Pelley’s Perspective is a weekly column that appears every Thursday.

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