Drugs Target the Unique Health Care Needs of Women
Drug advertising, then (top image) and now (lower image), often exploits a woman’s insecurities as a mom, wife or friend.
Over the years, several breakthroughs in science and medicine have helped women manage gender-specific health concerns. Some of these concerns include menstrual discomfort and menopause, contraception, beauty and diet, and anxiety and depression. There is also a long list of drugs and medical devices that either haven’t delivered as promised or, much worse, have injured and killed women … some that are still being used to this day (download report). When women and their families demand justice in a court of law, they often learn that major pharmaceutical companies knowingly put profit ahead of safety. Meanwhile, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t have the resources or the means to remove harmful drugs from the marketplace
Case in Point: Hormone Replacement Therapy
Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) became big business in 1942 with the introduction of Premarin, an estrogen supplement made from pregnant mares that was supposed to help women suffering the negative effects of menopause. Advertising at the time promised husbands that Premarin would make their wives “pleasant to live with once again” after coming home from a hard day at the office.
By 1975, estrogen therapy was linked to cancer of the uterus, and, in 1989, breast cancer. But that didn’t slow down other pharmaceutical manufacturers, including Wyeth, which introduced a combination of estrogen and progestin in 1996 called Prempro. Court documents later showed that the company paid ghostwriters to publish scientific papers de-emphasizing the risks of taking hormones. Profits at Wyeth soared to $2 billion in 2001 as nearly 70 million prescriptions were written for its hormone therapies.
The tide started to turn in 2002 when a huge federal study on hormone therapy was stopped after researchers linked the drugs to an increased risk of invasive breast cancer, heart disease and stroke. HRT sales dropped dramatically but continued on and today are enjoying a global resurgence pushed by the pharmaceutical industry despite renewed warnings by researchers. Meanwhile, Pfizer, now the owner of Wyeth, announced in a 2012 security filing that it will pay up to $1.2 billion to settle 10,000 Prempro patient lawsuits.
Awareness, Skepticism Key to Drug Safety
There are too many problem drugs and medical devices to list here. Check out the sources below and review advice on how to avoid dangerous medical products:
Erin Brockovich has joined other women to highlight reports of serious injury associated with the birth control implant Essure.
Be skeptical: There’s risk in taking any prescription drug, especially long-term. But we often put too much faith in science and see every drug as a silver bullet. When fully considered, the potential benefits may not be worth the risk.
Be more skeptical of new drugs: We know a lot about the various side effects caused by drugs that have been on the market for years and have been used by millions of people. New drugs and medical devices may have only been tested in limited clinical trials that frequently are sponsored by the company manufacturing the drug. Also note that women have traditionally been underrepresented in these tests.
Be REALLY skeptical of any drug that is heavily advertised: Drug companies are spending billions on advertising to both doctors and the public – advertising that is often cited as manipulative or misleading, especially ads targeting women.
Find trusted sources of information: The key is to make sure that the underlying data is not sponsored by pharmaceutical companies or related organizations. And that includes doctors. Don’t hesitate to compare what they’re telling you with information you find online. Sources to consider:
Drugs@FDA – official information about FDA-approved brand-name and generic drugs and therapeutic products (see the listing of adverse events associated with drugs)
Drugs.com – look up more than 24,000 prescription drugs, over-the-counter medicines and natural products
MedlinePlus – tracks drugs and supplements; National Institutes of Health’s website for patient safety
ConsumerSafety.org – safety alerts, error reporting and other resources from the Institute of Safe Medication Practices
Dollars for Docs – public database showing payments to doctors by pharmaceutical companies to represent their products
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