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FDA: Are Drug Ads' Side Effects Warnings Doing Their Job?

We have all probably heard them, those long listings of side effects reported at the end of a television drug commercial. Listening closely, some of those side effects include nausea, shortness of breath, internal bleeding, allergic reaction, dry mouth, heart attack and more. Those lists seem to go on and on... and on. A "Friends" episode even poked fun at the idea that "headache" could be a side effect of a headache-relief drug.The U.S. Food and Drug Administration understands that these risks are very real, but the agency wants to know if these long lists are effective in warning consumers about the possible risks. FDA officials wonder if shorter, condensed lists or even a simple warning to consult a doctor would be more effective. To find out, the FDA plans to conduct a consumer study.The FDA fears that this practice of stating long lists during a television ad may "reduce consumer comprehension" of the serious risks involved. The agency is concerned that these lists are simply "too long" to hold a consumer's attention. According to the NY Daily News, this inattention may contribute to millions of medication errors annually.The study plans to find out if consumers would respond better to statements that list only a couple of serious side effects or a simple statement that there are "additional risks." The traditional commercials would be included in the sample as a control. The results of this study would then be used to determine if changes need to be made to these commercial requirements.Although it may be easy for consumers to tune out during a commercial in which the spokesperson is rambling on about the many risks, we noted above that the risks are still very real. Many of these drugs require a prescription from a doctor. Even where a consumer may ignore the commercial's warnings, a doctor must carefully consider a patient's medical history to determine if the drug is safe for use by the particular patient before writing a prescription.Patients in Pennsylvania that are harmed by a medication error may be able to seek compensation through a medical malpractice lawsuit.Source: NY Daily News, "FDA looks into limiting TV commercials' rambling lists of drug risks," James Warren, Feb. 18, 2014

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