What if consumers could calculate the benefits and risks of taking a prescription drug as easily as they can gauge the carbs and calories of an Oreo cookie?
That's the way Natasha Singer started her piece in the New York Times yesterday about a new proposal for improved benefits-and-harms disclosure on drug ads.
Dartmouth's Steve Woloshin and Lisa Schwartz propose that the F.D.A. require new facts boxes on ads - somewhat akin to nutrition fact panels — "numerical tables that quantify the benefits of taking a drug compared with a placebo, and that list the odds of having side effects."
Woloshin told the Times: “We thought, if you could do it for Cocoa Krispies or Diet Coke, why couldn’t you do it for Lunesta or other drugs?”
The Dartmouth researchers, in one example, used data from a published study of the insomnia drug Lunesta to create a benefit box showing that volunteers who took the sleeping pill nightly for six months typically fell asleep 15 minutes faster than people on a placebo. The table, e-mailed to a reporter, also indicates that volunteers taking Lunesta typically slept for six hours and 22 minutes — or only 37 minutes longer than the placebo group. There was no difference in life-threatening side effects among the groups.
In 2007, Sepracor, the maker of Lunesta, spent about $293 million on advertisements for the sleeping pill, the highest ad spending that year among drug brands, according to Nielsen.