WASHINGTON, Consumers Union (CU), the nonprofit publisher of Consumer Reports, is launching a coordinated advertising and activism effort as a cap to its two-year battle to strengthen drug safety laws. Congress is poised this summer to take up the most significant prescription drug safety legislation in 45 years.
The CU effort centers around a full-page ad in the June 12th edition of USA Today, the same day a House panel is expected to take up drug safety legislation. The ad puts a face and a name to the victims of the current prescription drug laws, which do not require drug companies to make public their clinical drug studies, where adverse side effects often are discovered.
"Our mission is to ensure that consumers have all the information they need — the good news and the bad — to make the smartest choices. While there's no question that prescription drugs have succeeded in saving millions of lives, any harmful side effects should be as widely known as their benefits," said Jim Guest, president and CEO of Consumers Union, nonprofit publisher of Consumer Reports. "Our goal is to create a powerful consumer voice in the marketplace that helps pass this legislation and ultimately empowers patients and doctors to make better informed decisions."
In addition to the full-page ad, Consumers Union is galvanizing its 500,000 e-activists who can go to ConsumersUnion.org to write to their members of Congress asking them to support drug safety legislation.
Last month, the Senate passed legislation that greatly improves drug safety oversight. The issue now moves to the House, where the Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee will consider a broader proposal June 12 for prescription drug safety reform. Guest is slated to testify before the panel about the critical need to improve the Food and Drug Administration's drug safety monitoring and authority.
The USA Today ad is the latest step in Consumers Union's two-year campaign to strengthen drug safety laws. The ad will appear in the front section of USA Today and feature a black-and-white photo and the story of Patricia Slingo of Clearwater, Florida.
Slingo took the arthritis pain medication Vioxx to ease her arthritis pain. The drugmaker continued to heavily market Vioxx despite mounting evidence that it could increase risks of heart attacks. After taking Vioxx for two years, Slingo had angioplasty, stents placed in her heart, and eventually cardiac bypass surgery. Not suspecting Vioxx might be a cause, Slingo continued to take the medication until shortly before it was removed from the market.
The maker of Vioxx and the FDA had information from studies showing the drug increased the risk of heart attack, but the drugmaker downplayed those results and heavily marketed the drug until it was taken off the market in 2004.
Slingo has since joined other consumer activists working with Consumers Union to push for drug safety reform legislation and will travel to Washington, D.C., this week to lobby Congress. CU supports reforms that would require drug companies to register and make public all their clinical drug studies so that doctors, researchers, and patients can more quickly know about a drug's possible risks. Other needed measures include giving the FDA new powers to require drug companies make labeling changes and perform follow-up studies for those drugs on the market that show health risks, as well as significant fines for failing to comply with the FDA.
CU also encourages Congress to ensure that possible risks are quickly and clearly communicated to consumers and that the FDA be given the authority to temporarily limit direct-to-consumer advertising for those new drugs with severe and unusual safety issues. Many of the reforms are included in the drug safety measure introduced by health subcommittee chair Rep. Frank Pallone (D- N.J), which will be considered Tuesday.