Anyone who watches television should be aware of how we are inundated with commercials for new prescription drug medications. The commercials indicate what the medications are for, along with their side effects, if any. Have you actually listened to the side effects for some of the newer medications being promoted? If you have, you may wonder why some of these drugs are even being allowed on the market.
While I did not always pay attention to commercials for medications I personally do not need, several weeks ago, a commercial for Enbrel caught my attention. Embrel is a fairly new drug used for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis. This drug lowers the ability of the immune system to fight infections, including bacteria and fungi that can spread throughout the body, tuberculosis and viruses. It can also increase the risk of getting lymphoma and other cancers, and can cause nervous system problems such as multiple sclerosis and seizures. When I heard from the commercial that this drug could increase the risk of cancer, I wondered, as a cancer survivor, why anyone would take the risk to try this medication, or even why it was allowed on the market in the first place.
However, it is not just Embrel that I question. I did a little research about several other highly promoted prescriptions that are advertised not only on television, but also in magazines such as Good Housekeeping, Woman’s Day, and even People Magazine. Orencia is another rheumatoid arthritis treatment that lowers the immune system, making the patient more susceptible to infections and even some cancers. This particular drug cannot be used by patients who also have COPD, diabetes or heart disease.
There are three popular prescriptions advertised for depression and bipolar disorder. Abilify is used for the treatment of unresolved depression problems that are not taken care of the use of another anti-depressant, though it should not be used by anyone under the age of 18 years old. Side effects include increased blood pressure and blood sugar levels, nausea, insomnia, seizures and increased suicidal tendencies. Cymbalta is used as treatment for depression and fibromyalgia. It should not be used by patients who have glaucoma, hepatitis, liver disease or seizures. This medication can cause liver disease and increased suicidal tendencies. Seroquel treats bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. Some of the more serious side effects are an increase in blood sugar levels, cataracts, diabetes, increase in triglycerides, weight gain, low white blood cell counts (which can lead to death) and seizures.
Vimovo is a new drug created to treat osteoarthritis, and was approved by the FDA after only six months of controlled studies. It can increase blood pressure and hypertension, and, therefore can increase the risk of heart attack or stroke.
Vivanse is a prescription to treat ADHD. Serious side effects are difficulty in breathing, bad thoughts, hallucinations, and an increase in hypertension.
There are two very popular prescriptions used to treat asthma and/or COPD that have serious side effects. Singulair is used to prevent bronchospasms, difficulty breathing and wheezing caused by asthma. However, the serious side effects include increased difficulty breathing, tightness in the chest, disorientation, fever, hallucinations, worsening wheezing and seizures. Symbicort is one of the newer drugs used to prevent bronchospasms in patients with asthma or COPD. The serious side effects of this drug are chest tightness, difficulty breathing, fast heartbeat, increased mucous production, shortness of breath, muscle pain, seizures and worsening asthma or COPD symptoms. Formoterol, the active ingredient in Symbicort, increases the risk of asthma-related death.
The Food and Drug Administration has the power to approve or deny new drugs before they are introduced to consumers. According to the FDA mission, they are “responsible for protecting the public health by assuring the safety, efficacy and security of human and veterinary drugs”.* They are also responsible for advancing the public health by helping to speed innovations that make medicines more effective, safe and more affordable. Drug manufacturers apply for approval for a new drug after going through three phases of clinical trials, usually over a period of eight years. The new drugs are approved if the benefits outweigh the risks.
It would be logical and in the best interests of the average consumer if the risks were minimal and non-life-threatening, such as a slight increase or decrease in appetite, or tiredness, nausea or dry mouth. Those risks will normally not require further medications to treat the side effects. It goes beyond comprehension why anyone would want to risk getting tuberculosis, cancer, hallucinations, suicidal thoughts, heart attack or stroke just to try a new medication for an existing condition. Another medication may have to be added to counteract those side effects. Why would a doctor, knowing the serious risks involved with some of these drugs, prescribe them for his or her patient? Whom in the FDA has the right to decide that the risk of cancer is minimal compared to the benefit of a certain drug? It would seem to be in the best interest of all consumers that the FDA denies approval for any new drug that has any serious side effects. With so many advances in technology today, drug manufacturers should be able to develop medications with minimal side effects to submit for approval. Perhaps it is time to make changes within the drug manufacturing industry and the FDA.