warning labels

  1. Deadly faith

    I'm always puzzled by the millions of people who take dangerous meds that barely work in the first place -- but now I'm starting to see why: They have no idea what they're in for.

    A new survey finds that 40 percent of Americans believe the FDA only gives the OK to "extremely effective" meds -- and 25 percent believe FDA-approved drugs don't have serious side effects.

    Even the FDA will tell you that's not the case.

    Drugs don't have to be safe to win approval: Meds that win passage often have severe and terrifying side effects, up to and including death itself. And they don't even have to be especially effective, either: Some meds work for less than half of the people who take them... yet get approved anyway.

    Just look at all the studies on everything from painkillers to antidepressants in which the drugs barely beat placebos.

    So the real secret to drug approval isn't in safety or even effectiveness -- it's in passing the FDA's nebulous and industry-friendly "risk vs. benefits" calculation.

    Sounds like some delicate balancing act, right?

    In reality, it's about as delicate as a hippo playing seesaw with a mouse. I don't think I need to tell you which one of those animals represents "risk" -- and in many cases, meds win approval before all those risks are even known.

    The survey also finds that warning labels might help people reconsider meds... sort of.

    In one case, when given a choice between two fictional heartburn meds, patients reflexively chose the one they believed to be newer. But when given a warning that new drugs might carry more serious risks that aren't yet known, the majority switched to the older one.

    In another, participants choosing between two cholesterol meds reconsidered when told one contained a warning that said "It is not known whether it will help patients feel better or live longer."

    But out in the real world, patients rarely compare meds they way they do spaghetti sauce. In most cases, the doctor prescribes and the patient complies -- and that's why millions of people take drugs they barely understand for conditions they might not even have... like cholesterol and heartburn.

    You should always read the warnings, of course -- but before you even get a prescription bottle in your hand, you need to ask your doctor a series of questions.

    Keep reading for more.

  2. New blood thinner offers problems, not answers

    In an ideal world, the FDA would protect us from drugs with potentially fatal side effects by making sure no one takes them.

    But in the world we live in, our watchdogs approve those meds for widespread use, knowing and acknowledging that they could kill you.

    The FDA has given the OK to a new blood thinner despite the fact that studies show folks who take this drug may end up with potentially fatal bleeding. No, that little problem won't keep it off the market – it'll just earn it a warning label.

    This new drug is meant to compete with a popular blood thinner already on the market. But instead of presenting a healthier, safer alternative, this drug showed during trials that patients who take it suffer more bleeding problems than patients on the current med.

    The trials showed that slightly fewer patients on this newer drug had heart attacks – 7 percent versus 9.1 percent – but the overall death rates were about the same.

    In other words, the FDA has approved a drug that not only is no better than what's already on the market, but could have worse side effects.

    Maybe my problem is that I just can't think like your typical Washington bureaucrat. Let's blame it on the fresh air out here under the Big Sky, but I can't understand how a drug like this managed to win approval.

    Well, I guess there is one perspective where it makes sense: Wall Street analysts think this new med will add $1 billion annually to Big Pharma's bottom line.

    We don't need more meds packed with new side effects to compete with the side effect-riddled drugs already on the market. What we really need is a new approach to healing.

    The best way to avoid blood thinners is to reduce your risk of heart attack or stroke in the first place by changing your lifestyle before it's too late. That means eating healthier and living better – get all those bad carbs out of your life now and find a way to get that regular moderate exercise we all need.

    If you're already taking blood thinners, it's not too late for you either. You can follow that same advice to reduce your risk of heart attacks and stroke, and then you can work with your doctor to find natural ways to reduce your need for blood thinners and other drugs.

    And if you need some motivation, just look at that warning on this new drug, which says patients face the risk of "significant, sometimes fatal, bleeding."

    At least the FDA gets points for honesty here. Maybe we can get labels like that on food. "Warning: Eating processed foods, sugars and refined carbohydrates may lead to obesity and death."

    As long as we're being honest here, why not?

  3. New warnings for common painkillers

    Common over-the-counter painkillers have needed more prominent warning labels for years. They're among our most overused drugs, yet most people have no idea how dangerous they can be.

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