News Media May Offer Misleading Drug Information

On June 1st 2000 the Associated Press ran a story that strongly suggested that many of the news releases on drugs commonly run on major news organizations may be very misleading. The AP news story was reporting on a study conducted by researchers from Harvard University and Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, and reported in the June 1st 2000 New England Journal of Medicine. In that study researchers reviewed 207 stories by U.S. news media of the benefits and risks of three medications that are used to prevent major diseases. These medications were pravastatin, a drug reported for the prevention of cardiovascular disease; alendronate, a drug reported for the treatment and prevention of osteoporosis; and aspirin, which has been widely reported recently as a preventative for heart problems.

The researchers noted inaccuracies in reporting the results but noted severe problems with researchers who had a financial interest in the drug they were reporting on. The article said, “Of the 170 stories citing an expert or a scientific study, 85 (50 percent) cited at least one expert or study with a financial tie to a manufacturer of the drug that had been disclosed in the scientific literature. These ties were disclosed in only 33 (39 percent) of the 85 stories.” In their conclusion the researchers wrote, “News-media stories about medications may include inadequate or incomplete information about the benefits, risks, and costs of the drugs as well as the financial ties between study groups or experts and pharmaceutical manufacturers.”