Pharmacists can help dispel patient confusion about drug safety, efficacy

FDA communications can sometimes leave patients in the dark

WHAT IT MEANS AND WHY IT'S IMPORTANT — The $317 billion problem of medication nonadherence has many sources that often combine and overlap in complex ways. But fears of whether a drug is safe and will work are among of the most frequently cited reasons why patients don't take their drugs as prescribed, or don't take them at all.

(THE NEWS: CVS Caremark-sponsored research finds FDA drug warnings can fuel medication nonadherence. For the full story, click here.)

It doesn't help that Food and Drug Administration advisories and warnings, while usually mentioning specifically whether patients should or shouldn't continue using a drug based on new study findings, often get enough play in the news media to sow doubt about the drugs people take.

Comedian Jeff Foxworthy has a routine in which he advertises a fictional drug called Flora-Flor, for itchy, watery eyes. Flora-Flor, he says, imitating the reading off of possible side effects required by law in drug advertisements, can cause everything from nausea and vomiting to low resale value on your home and feline leukemia. Well, he concludes, it would probably be better to just have itchy, watery eyes. While the CVS Caremark study focused on FDA communications regarding drug efficacy in which safety issues were not mentioned, Foxworthy's routine shows how pervasive fears of side effects can be among consumers.

While news media reporting on FDA communications have a responsibility to disseminate them to the public accurately, and the FDA itself has a responsibility to make its communications clear and understandable, pharmacists also can step in and ensure that patients have all the information they need. When the FDA reports that a drug may not be effective in certain patients, may interact in adverse ways with other medications or may cause serious side effects according to data submitted through its warning system or found in a clinical trial, pharmacists can take the initiative to talk to their patients and ensure they have a complete understanding of the issue and know what their options are if they become uncomfortable taking their current therapies.

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