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Locating Timely Drug Information

October 02, 2000|Benedict Carey

Food and Drug Administration

Overview: The FDA is the government agency responsible for (among other things) making sure the drugs we use are safe and effective. This site attempts to provide news and drug information for consumers, manufacturers and policymakers.

What Works: This is the place to go to find out whether a new drug you've heard about has been approved or whether a generic version of a brand-name medication will soon be available. The FDA also posts news about its own actions and pronouncements, including, for example, reports of new side effects for a particular drug. And the site devotes full pages to major drug phenomena, such as Viagra and fen-phen, which are interesting and up to date.

What Doesn't: The FDA can't decide if it's talking to consumers or professionals--and tilts to the pros, doctors and industry people. The result is that there is no quick, easy way to get a snapshot of most drugs. Clean profiles--with the basics about what a drug is, how it works, how it's used, dosage, side effects and so on--would make the site more useful. The information is here but scattered over a sea of government documents. And there are precious few outside links to act as lifesavers.

Pharmaceutical Information Network

Overview: PharmInfoNet is one of several consumer sites operated by, an ambitious online project sponsored by a consortium of medical firms, including drug giants SmithKline Beecham and Novartis. The site has links to and information about these companies' products but provides a wide range of general information as well.

What Works: A feature called Drug Infoline gives you the skinny on hundreds of new medications: brand name, availability, manufacturer, what it's for, how it works, even results from clinical trials. Ostensibly for doctors, these summaries are so well-written even consumers will find them accessible. Another feature, DrugDB, lists hundreds more commonly used drugs, providing basic information and news items about the drugs. You can search by disease, by brand name or by generic name, and then find plenty of outside links to learn more. The site offers chat groups as well, if you want to hear what other people are saying about drugs.

What Doesn't: The drug news items are not updated that often, apparently. Some are more than 2 years old. In many cases, this is appropriate; nothing newsworthy has happened in connection to the drug. But in other cases it pays to be more alert. For example, in August, the FDA released a warning about Lotronex, for irritable bowel syndrome. In rare instances, the drug can cause severe constipation and colon damage. A month later, you couldn't find the FDA warning on the site.

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