Other Sources Offer Better Information Than Drug Inserts
The New York Times on Tuesday examined how "the best sources of written information" about medications remain reference books and online guides written for consumers, despite "simplified package inserts for prescription drugs," which were announced by FDA in January. According to the Times, the new inserts will make it easier for doctors to determine a drug's safety, but the language will still be difficult for most patients to understand.
As a result, it "pays to make room on the bookshelf for a drug manual," such as the "AARP Guide to Pills," or to "become familiar with a reputable online guide" like MedlinePlus.gov, the site of the National Library of Medicine, the Times reports.
The guides generally describe in simpler language what a drug is used for, how to take it, what to do if a dose is missed, warnings, side effects, and how a drug might interact with other medications and herbal supplements. Some guides also contain information that is not in the package inserts. According to the Times, the editors of consumer guides usually obtain much of their information from the package inserts but supplement it with data from drug research published after the inserts were released.
Some guides also give information about off-label uses of the drugs. The reference books also "have the advantage of letting [consumers] easily compare one medicine with another" and can help them find ways to save money by showing lower-cost alternatives, the Times reports.
"Ultimately, it's the patients who have to make decisions about their own health care. And it is good for them to be as informed as possible about the medicines they're taking," Gerald McEvoy, pharmacist and assistant vice president for drug information at American Society of Health-System Pharmacists, said (Duenwald, New York Times, 2/7).