?March 1, 1999

Public Citizen Releases Worst Pills, Best Pills

New Consumer?s Guide Helps Patients Navigate Drug Minefield

    WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Preventable adverse drug reactions afflict more than 2 million Americans, kill 100,000 and hospitalize 1.5 million every year, partly because people do not know how to protect themselves from dangerous drugs or drug combinations, consumer group Public Citizen said today.

    Americans fill more than 2.3 billion drug prescriptions each year, but weakened federal oversight and an onslaught of drug industry advertising have left consumers treading through a pharmaceutical minefield -- with nightmarish consequences for thousands of patients who suffer adverse reactions to drugs, said the group.

    "This is a national epidemic. The pharmaceutical industry has succeeded in intimidating the Food and Drug Administration into approving record numbers of drugs that either offer no significant benefit over drugs already on the market or have dangerous side effects," said Dr. Sidney M. Wolfe, director of Public Citizen?s Health Research Group.

    To help patients use prescription and over-the-counter drugs more safely, Wolfe and the staff of Health Research Group have produced Worst Pills, Best Pills: A Consumer?s Guide to Avoiding Drug-Induced Death or Illness.

    The $16 book includes in-depth profiles, including potential risks, of 456 of the most commonly used drugs, categorized by the type of treatment for which they are prescribed. It also lists 160 drugs that patients should not take at all -- either because they are too dangerous or because they are ineffective -- and provides safer alternatives.

    "The whole system is stacked against patients," Wolfe said. "Drug companies, doctors and pharmacists are too often making decisions that ultimately derive from what is best for the drug companies, doctors and pharmacists -- not what is necessarily best for the patient. This book has been written to help consumers come out ahead in the struggle with our health care system."

Worst Pills, Best Pills includes separate chapters instructing readers on how to protect themselves from preventable drug-induced injury and how to save money on prescription drugs.

Wolfe blames the epidemic of adverse drug reactions on:

  • The pharmaceutical industry, which spends $12 billion a year to promote drugs to doctors and to consumers directly through advertisements on television and in newspapers and magazines. The industry has pressured Congress to weaken FDA reviews and approvals of new drugs, the monitoring of drugs already on the market and the oversight of the industry?s advertising claims.
  • The FDA, which has bent over backward to approve new drugs. In 1996 and 1997 the agency approved more drugs than had ever been approved in any two-year period. Thousands of people were injured or killed after taking three of the drugs approved during that period -- Duract, Redux and Posicor, all of which have been taken off the market. A recent Public Citizen study showed that 19 FDA medical officers -- the officials in charge of reviewing new drugs -- identified a total of 27 approved drugs in the past three years that they reviewed that they thought should not have been approved.
  • Physicians who misprescribe drugs; prescribe drugs in dangerous combinations; treat adverse drug reactions with more drugs; fail to identify non-drug treatments for some conditions; or prescribe dangerous drugs when safer alternatives are available.

    Of the 2.3 billion prescriptions written per year, hundreds of millions are simply not needed, Wolfe said. For example, 23 million prescriptions are written each year for colds, bronchitis and upper respiratory infections -- all caused by viruses but treated with antibiotics that have no effect on the underlying cause. This accounts for one-fifth of all prescriptions for antibiotics. Wolfe cites another study showing that 47 percent of people admitted to a nursing home who were taking the heart drug digoxin did not have the problem for which it was prescribed.

    More information can be obtained on the Internet by visiting www.worstpills.org, where the book can be ordered with a credit card. It also can be ordered by sending a check or money order for $16, made payable to Public Citizen, to Public Citizen, 1600 20th Street, N.W., Washington, DC 20009

To Order Worst Pills, Best Pills