News Media May Offer Mis­lead­ing Drug Infor­ma­tion

On June 1st 2000 the Asso­ci­ated Press ran a story that strongly sug­gested that many of the news releases on drugs com­monly run on major news orga­ni­za­tions may be very mis­lead­ing. The AP news story was report­ing on a study con­ducted by researchers from Har­vard Uni­ver­sity and Har­vard Pil­grim Health Care, and reported in the June 1st 2000 New Eng­land Jour­nal of Med­i­cine. In that study researchers reviewed 207 sto­ries by U.S. news media of the ben­e­fits and risks of three med­ica­tions that are used to pre­vent major dis­eases. These med­ica­tions were pravas­tatin, a drug reported for the pre­ven­tion of car­dio­vas­cu­lar dis­ease; alen­dronate, a drug reported for the treat­ment and pre­ven­tion of osteo­poro­sis; and aspirin, which has been widely reported recently as a pre­ven­ta­tive for heart problems.

The researchers noted inac­cu­ra­cies in report­ing the results but noted severe prob­lems with researchers who had a finan­cial inter­est in the drug they were report­ing on. The arti­cle said, “Of the 170 sto­ries cit­ing an expert or a sci­en­tific study, 85 (50 per­cent) cited at least one expert or study with a finan­cial tie to a man­u­fac­turer of the drug that had been dis­closed in the sci­en­tific lit­er­a­ture. These ties were dis­closed in only 33 (39 per­cent) of the 85 sto­ries.” In their con­clu­sion the researchers wrote, “News-​media sto­ries about med­ica­tions may include inad­e­quate or incom­plete infor­ma­tion about the ben­e­fits, risks, and costs of the drugs as well as the finan­cial ties between study groups or experts and phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal manufacturers.”

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