- The Washington Times - Friday, January 20, 2006

The Food and Drug Administration this week took sensible steps toward 21st-century medicine by requiring that prescription-drug package inserts be more readable and less threatening. Drug companies initially wanted to keep the current mumbo-jumbo of chemistry and legalese for fear of lawsuits.

But the FDA persisted, maintaining reasonably and courageously — particularly in this era when a single senator from Iowa knows he can spuriously trash the agency about heartworm medicine and get media coverage — that an FDA approval is not just a minimum standard of safety. It is an evaluation, based upon the best science available or the relative risks and benefits of each medicine. Failure to clearly convey both aspects of a medicine could “discourage appropriate use of a beneficial drug.” Further, the FDA signaled that the package insert is a temporary method for providing consumers and doctors information, in an era when new insights into the best use of medicines are now being revealed through the use of genetic tests and post-market studies analyzing genetic variations in drug response. (The labeling information will be updated daily for free at the National Library of Medicine at http://dailymed.nlm.nih.gov.)

Finally, the FDA makes clear that it will assert its authority defended vigorously by the Clinton administration and upheld by several circuit and appellate courts — as the ultimate authority about what makes a medicine safe and effective. Too often trial lawyers seeking to make a quick buck at the expense of an individual who unfortunately suffered from a side effect of a medicine has sought to second-guess both the judgment of the FDA and safety warnings in an effort to obtain significant damages. The FDA serves notice that if there is going to be any “individualized reevaluation of the risks and benefits of a product” it will be as a result of new scientific information.

The agency will oppose any lawsuit that contends a jury or state law somehow has a reservoir of superior medical knowledge or authority for imposing additional safety standards beyond those required under FDA regulations.

Critics will claim that the FDA is often misled and it takes lawsuits to set things right. Yet all the lawsuits, as well as the grandstanding efforts of New York Attorney General Elliot Spitzer against the makers of Paxil, were based on clinical trial data from the FDA itself and from studies that were widely available.

The new FDA labeling rule will make information widely available in real time and link it to the label if need be, shedding light and advancing public health.

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