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We’ve all seen advertisements for prescription drugs on television. Most advertisements are set up the same way — a person is shown struggling with a medical condition; the person takes the advertised drug; the person is shown laughing and playing with children or a puppy. The drug seems wonderful, like it is the answer sufferers have been waiting for.
Then a voice comes on at the end of the commercial and quickly rattles, “Side effects may include…” The person reading the side effects sounds like an auctioneer, and for most people, it’s difficult to understand what side effects are listed.
It’s a common ploy for drug manufacturers, and one that may put patients in Pennsylvania and throughout the country at risk. Drug companies are required to notify patients of the risks, but no company wants information about its drugs’ negative side effects widely broadcast, so they resort to hiding critical information in small print or in a rapid-fire declaration at the end of a 30-second TV ad.
Some might argue this is just smart marketing. It’s not. Not if it comes at the expense of patient safety.
One couple learned that lesson the hard way when their baby was born with congenital birth injuries. The couple filed a lawsuit against the makers of Zoloft (an antidepressant the mother took when she was pregnant), claiming that the drug had been linked to numerous fetal problems.
According to the lawsuit, the drug increases the risk of heart defects, especially persistent pulmonary hypertension of the newborn. The parents said that if they had been aware of the risks of taking Zoloft during pregnancy, the mother would never have purchased or ingested the drug. The parents argued that the drug manufacturer should have known that pregnant mothers were taking Zoloft and that this was putting their children at risk.
This particular case is up to the courts to decide, but as consumers, we all need to make a decision about whether we are willing to tolerate incomplete, inaccurate or improperly concealed information regarding the potentially life-threatening side effects of prescription drugs.
Maybe drug companies will never be able to design drugs that don’t come with side effects, but side effects are ultimately not the issue. When patients are properly made aware of the side effects of a drug, they can make informed decisions and weigh the risks — to themselves or, as in this case, to their unborn children. But if drug manufacturers are not forthcoming about those side effects — or worse, take steps to hide the risks or confuse patients as to potential side effects — it is impossible for patients to adequately protect themselves. And if patients or their children suffer due to deceptive advertising tactics, someone should pay.
Do you agree?
Source: The Louisiana Record, “Lawsuit claims baby’s congenital birth defects linked to mother’s use of Zoloft,” Michelle Keahey, Feb. 13, 2012