Misleading Media – study finds media coverage of new medications is often misleading

Misleading Media – study finds media coverage of new medications is often misleading – Brief Article

Kelly McCarthy

Think the media’s reports on new drugs sound too good to be true? They usually are. A new study published in The New England Journal of Medicine found that media coverage of new medications often omits the risks, overstates the benefits, and neglects to tell the public how drug testing is funded.

After reviewing more than 200 stories from U.S. newspapers and four TV net works NBC, ,ABC, CBS and CNN–American and Australian researchers found that 40% of news stories citing medical specialists failed to discuss any financial ties between those specialists and the new medications. They also discovered that only 60% of news reports included a numerical analysis of the drugs’ benefits, and only 17% of those discussed the drugs’ absolute benefits.

Moreover, of all of the stories examined, little more than half revealed the risks of three medications–aspirin, pravastatin and alendronate–that have several potential adverse effects. Of stories using a numerical analysis of benefits, only 15% discussed both relative and absolute benefits. In one story on calcium channel blockers–hypertension preventatives–the media overdramatized the drugs’ risks. And though the dangers are important, blockers are used much less frequently than other drugs, so very few people are actually affected by their potential side effects.

The findings are important, says Stephen Soumerai, Ph.D., study author and head of Harvard Medical School’s Drug Policy Research Group, because “people don’t have time to read scientific articles. The media is recognized as a key source of information about drug risks and benefits.”To ensure you get accurate information, study co-author Lisa Anne Bero, Ph.D., a pharmacy professor at the University of California-San Francisco, suggests, “Don’t waste your time reading articles that don’t list the absolute benefits, absolute risks, harms and potential conflicts of interest [of the drug].”

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