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THE NATION

Prescription Drugs: Danger Within the Cure

April 05, 1998|Thomas J. Moore | Thomas J. Moore, a senior fellow in health policy at the George Washington University Medical Center, is the author of "Prescription for Disaster: The Hidden Dangers in Your Medicine Cabinet."

In such a poorly managed, inherently dangerous system, consumers must pay far more attention to risks and benefits of the drugs they take. Can they recognize the adverse effects of the drugs they're taking, especially the subtle ones like fatigue or mild depression? Is this one of the drugs where a small overdose is dangerous? Do consumers know when they take one of the many drugs with alarming withdrawal effects if discontinued suddenly? These are just a few of the many questions that must be answered to use drugs wisely.

While individuals can do much to reduce their risks, an effective solution requires action by a concerned nation that usually does not neglect important safety issues. For example, we spend $3 billion annually to install air bags in new automobiles, hoping to save about 300 lives a year. Responding to the fatal crash of a TWA airliner near New York, in which terrorism was not involved, the federal government launched a massive counter-terrorism effort with 200 new employees at the FAA and another 1,300 at the FBI.

Yet, with 1 million severely harmed each year by prescription drugs, the FDA monitoring program has a budget of about $7 million. You don't have to an expert to grasp how many lives we could save, and injuries we might prevent, with even a modest investment in drug safety.

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