Have you ever wondered why the risks associated with popular prescription drugs seem to trail their aggressive promotion, sometimes by years? Certainly, as millions use brand name drugs, dangerous side effects and adverse events are seen that did not emerge in much smaller clinical trials. Who knew? But also, Pharma has a financial reason to suppress dangerous side effects: it's the same reason Hollywood doesn't want a movie to be called a dog until millions see it. Make all the money you can before the truth gets out.
GERD medicines and antidepressants are among Pharma's top cash cows. But concerning risks continue to emerge as both drug classes are not the blockbusters they once were.
One of Pharma's most successful gambits has been proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) like Nexium, the "Purple Pill," and Prilosec that reduce stomach acid. To sell the drugs, Pharma raised "awareness" of GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease) a rare condition which, over time, can change the lining of the esophagus and lead to cancer. Most PPI users, however have simple heartburn.
Even babies are now given PPIs for "baby reflux" because they spit up 71 times a day--a normal occurrence that has been pathologized.
The medical establishment deplores PPI overusage, pointing out that heartburn can exist without esophageal damage and esophageal damage can exist without heartburn. Some doctors have even called PPIs "purple crack" because they are so addictive.
"Once a patient has taken a PPI for longer than a few weeks, acid hypersecretion can occur on discontinuation," says an article in Pharmaceutical Journal. "This causes rebound symptoms, and frequently establishes a vicious cycle of drug reinitiation and long-term continuation."
Adverse effects of long-term PPI use are well documented from the risks of the dread intestinal infection Clostridium difficile ("C Diff"), bone thinning and fractures and vitamin and mineral deficiencies to chronic kidney disease and heart attacks. Now there is a newer reported risk. A study in JAMA Neurology found people taking PPIs "had a significantly increased risk of incident dementia compared with the patients not receiving PPI medication."
SSRI antidepressants are one the most consumed drug class in the US; as much as a quarter of the population are on them in some areas. Their popularity is directly correlated with Pharma's "selling" of depression as a life-long, ubiquitous condition. Gone are the days when bad moods were attributed to problems with finance, romance, debt, jobs, housing, careers, family, marriages and health. Now, says Pharma, you have the life-long condition of depression and if your SSRI doesn't work (because you really had a relationship or career problem to begin with and not depression) you need to add another expensive, prescription drug.
SSRIs are well known for weight gain, sexual dysfunction and sometimes causing----not preventing----suicide ideation in young people. But as the drugs go off patent and no more big money is to be made, other frightening conditions are emerging. The SSRI Paxil, for example, increases the risk for birth defects, particularly heart defects, when women take it during the first three months of pregnancy," reported the FDA in 2005. SSRIs are now under the microscope for causing fractures and possibly bone thinning in their users. And finally, SSRIs are being investigated as a prenatal cause of autism. "A new study provides some of the strongest evidence yet that using an antidepressant like Prozac, Paxil or Zoloft during the final two trimesters of pregnancy may be linked to a higher risk of autism spectrum disorder for the child," wrote the Washington Post about two years ago.
The PPI and SSRI drug classes, as others, are the reason drug safety activists recommend waiting a long time before taking a new drug. Early users can be Pharma's guinea pigs as these new risks reveal.