Thursday, January 17, 2008

How effective is your medication....REALLY?

The New York Times today reports that drug researchers are more likely to publish data reporting positive effects of medications than they are negative ones. Here's the full story for any of you who are interested.

This disturbs me. My graduate school program taught me that ANY outcome, positive, negative, or neutral, is significant to consider and report to colleagues. In the pharmaceutical industry, it would seem to me that recognizing that a medication is not as effective, in the development stage, would save money in the long run. There is always time to go back to the drawing board and build a better mousetrap.

Is it only me who gets tired of turning on the news and hearing that a medication was recalled for side effects/problems that could have been headed off with a little patience and integrity on the front end?

Understanding why a medication isn't effective should be challenging scientists to better understand the brain and develop medications that are effective.

In mental health, especially, it can be dangerous to convince someone with depression, bipolar disorder, or schizophrenia, that a medication that they are taking is more likely to help them than it really is. Self-destructive behaviors, not to mention suicide and homicide, hurt more than just the person taking the ineffective medication.

I understand that medications cannot even be developed if there is not a way to pay for the cost of research, development, production, and distribution. But c'mon, colleagues, aren't we also in this work, at least a little bit, to perform a public service? Isn't the better public service to steer people away from nonproductive choices (including medications that are not likely to help) and challenging ourselves to find newer, better options that can truly make a difference? Even if it it means exercising humility and admitting we may not have gotten it right the first time?

Thomas Edison had to go back to the lab many times before he successfully created an invention as simple as a light bulb that actually worked. To think we can always develop a medication that positively impacts something as awesome and complex as the human brain, on the very first try, well, I don't know about you, but I prefer humility.

A little slower pace in the development stage to be sure our talents are actually helping people (those with mental health diagnoses) who can have a hard time finding advocates who take them and their safety not just an ethical issue. Even for those concerned mainly with with profits, proactive thinking can prevent having to spend money on recalls and litigation, improving profitability in the long run.

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