If you’ve ever taken a prescription drug, you are probably familiar with those paper inserts that come inside the package – although there’s a good chance you’ve never actually read every word on them. These papers are filled with tiny print outlining the medication’s purpose, dosage, and side effects, but they are so long and technical that few people actually read them from start to finish.
The U.K.’s Academy of Medical Sciences recently slammed the pamphlets in a report, saying that patients find them “unreadable” and “impenetrable” and that they need to be made clearer to increase patient understanding.
The Chair of the report, Professor Sir John Tooke, took pharmaceutical companies to task for the confusing scientific language used in the leaflets. For example, the inserts inside acetaminophen mention the chances of developing pancreatitis and hepatitis but don’t shed light into what those conditions are or just how high the risk is. He says the inserts “aren’t written from a consumer’s perspective.”
Of course, this complex language is really good at accomplishing one thing: making people give up in frustration and ensuring they do not grasp the full extent of the possible side effects that could occur from taking a particular medication. By obscuring the truth about a drug’s side effects and risks, more people will take them and refill their prescription without worrying too much about the repercussions, fattening the wallets of Big Pharma.
By the way, this problem extends to vaccines. In fact, many patients never even read the inserts that come with vaccines because their doctors open up the package and administer it on the spot. If they did read it, they would have known, for example, that the fine print on the package insert of the 2013-2014 flu shot contained mercury, thimerosal and formaldehyde, and that its safety had not been established in pregnant women even though it was administered to them. Even more outrageously, the vaccine comes with just one insert despite being a 10-dose vial intended for 10 different people.
Patients, doctors don’t trust pharmaceutical companies
The Academy of Medical Sciences report also showed that patients trust their friends and family’s opinion more than clinical trial results when it comes to the effectiveness and safety of the drugs they take. After surveying more than 2,000 members of the public and 1,000 doctors, they found that 65 percent of people trust the opinion of their friends and family, while just 37 percent trust medical research evidence.
In addition, they found that 63 percent of the public was skeptical of the claims made by drug trials. Even more concerning was the fact that 82 percent of doctors said they were skeptical of drug trial claims, with the same amount believing that medical research is biased toward making the drugs appear safe and effective. This begs the question of why they continue to prescribe medication if they have such a high degree of mistrust.
The Academy has also proposed a list of questions that patients should ask their doctors when being prescribed medication. It includes questions like how a medication can improve their health and if it can be taken with other medications, but it conveniently omits questions like whether natural or safer alternatives exist.
The FDA reports that medication errors lead to at least one death each day and injure around 1.3 million Americans each year, while the Pharma Death Clock says that nearly 400,000 people have been killed by prescription drugs since 2000. Clear and honest prescription inserts in easy-to-read language and type could go a long way toward helping to prevent many of these unnecessary deaths and injuries.