Drug Risks Not Reported
from Associated Press,
June 1, 2000
Reports about medicines in newspapers and on television
commonly contain little or no information about drugs' risks and cost, and
often cite medical "experts" without disclosing their financial
ties to the pharmaceutical industry, according to a new study.
The analysis of 207 recent news stories on three
popular drugs also found that most of the reports failed to provide enough
quantitative information to allow readers or viewers to assess the drugs'
likelihood of preventing certain diseases. Instead, study findings were
reported in a way that tended to overstate the possible benefits.
"Over half the stories were totally silent
on side effects," said Ray Moynihan, an Australian journalist who
initiated the study during a one year fellowship at Harvard Medical
School. "What we're seeing here is the media behaving too often like
a cheering squad rather than the skeptics that we want them to
The analysis of how the news media handle information
about drugs comes at a time when rising prices for prescription drugs are
a major contributor to increasing health care costs, and when the results
of favorable studies are feverishly promoted by pharmaceutical
"Reporters and editors need to be careful,"
said Aly Colon, a member of the ethics faculty at the Poynter Institute
for Media Studies in St. Petersburg. Reporting on medicines "has
tremendous impact on the readers or viewers or listeners, especially if
they're ill with the disease being discussed."
The study was paid for by the Commonwealth Fund and by
Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Foundation, a nonprofit health maintenance
organization. It appears in todays issue of The New England Journal of
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