December 3, 2007
YONKERS, NY — Improvements in communications are sorely needed between doctors and patients, especially when it comes to prescription drugs. That’s one of many findings in the January issue of Consumer Reports, in which CR summarizes key findings from its Best Buy Drugs initiative about drugs for 35 conditions including Alzheimer’s disease, heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, insomnia, menopause, migraine, and overactive bladder. The report is part of a broader effort by CR to make sure that consumers get the best medicines for their health-care dollar.
CR points out that consumers aren’t always getting the best information from their doctors, in addition to what they’re hearing from the $5.6 billion direct-to-consumer drug advertising campaigns by the pharmaceutical companies. The report, entitled “Best Medicines for Less,” outlines the steps consumers can take to remedy the situation.
Consumer Reports Best Buy Drugs, a public education project, has evaluated drugs for 35 conditions to help consumers make smart choices. According to the January report, nearly half of all U.S. adults regularly take at least one prescription drug. And 18 percent of adults take three or more prescription drugs. CR’s free, unbiased analysis of prescription drugs is available online at www.ConsumerReports.org/health.
CR’s analysis of many classes of prescription drugs has uncovered the following:
Older drugs often match newer ones. Skillful marketing by pharmaceutical companies aims to convince doctors and consumers that newer medicines are almost always better. But CR’s evaluations have concluded that in many cases, older drugs are as good or even better.
Case in Point: For most people with type 2 diabetes, the generic drug metformin and a group of older medicines called sulfonylureas—also available as low-cost generics—are just as effective and as safe—if not safer—than a batch of new, highly touted, and more expensive medicines, according to CR Best Buy Drugs.
Drugs within a class aren’t always that different. Drug makers argue that more drugs in each class give doctors and consumers more choices and a better chance of successful treatment. But this mantra is driven more by a business agenda than by science.
Case in Point: While studies show that in some classes, such as heart medicines, the effects of individual drugs vary significantly, in other classes the medicines deliver very similar results. When CR Best Buy Drugs compared 20 drugs known as NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), they all delivered the same amount of pain relief at equivalent doses.
Some drugs are less effective than consumers might think. While many drugs are highly effective, some widely used ones don’t work as well as their advertising campaigns suggest.
Case in Point: CR’s review of the five Alzheimer’s drugs found that, compared to a placebo, only 10 to 20 percent of people taking any of the drugs had sustained improvement. Despite these results, two of the five Alzheimer’s drugs, Aricept and Namenda, were among the top 100 best-selling brandname drugs in 2006. Promotions of both drugs to doctors have been extensive. Aricept’s maker spent almost $60 million in 2005 and 2006 advertising the drug to consumers.
Adverse effects are understudied. Most research focuses on a drug’s benefits rather than on potential problems, so consumers should use caution when they’re prescribed any new drugs. Case in Point: An August study in the journal Drug Safety found that physicians were more likely to deny than confirm a suspected adverse effect from a statin drug, even when the symptom was well reported in literature.
STEPS FOR IMPROVING DOCTOR-PATIENT COMMUNICATION
CR Best Buy Drugs emphasizes in its January report that doctors and patients don’t
always communicate well about prescriptions. CR recommends the following tips for improving
Consumers should keep a list of the drugs they’re taking and be sure to mention any adverse reactions.
Consumers should ask about drug options and shouldn’t be shy about asking their doctors why they’re prescribing a given drug.
Consumers should be wary of free samples, as they are often the newer brand-name drugs which might not be the best choice.
It’s important to raise cost concerns. Studies show that doctors are often unaware of drug costs and don’t ask their patients whether cost is an issue.
It’s wise to double-check dosing and ask whether a lower dose is an option.
Side effects should never be ignored. Patients should be assertive if they are having uncomfortable symptoms.
Tildy La Farge (914) 378-2436
Lauren Hackett (914) 378-2561
© Consumers Union 2007. The material above is intended for legitimate news entities only; it may not be used for commercial or promotional purposes. Consumer Reports® is published by Consumers Union, an expert, independent nonprofit organization whose mission is to work for a fair, just, and safe marketplace for all consumers and to empower consumers to protect themselves. To achieve this mission, we test, inform, and protect. To maintain our independence and impartiality, Consumers Union accepts no outside advertising, no free test samples, and has no agenda other than the interests of consumers. Consumers Union supports itself through the sale of our information products and services, individual contributions, and a few noncommercial grants.