When the end of the year comes, many use it as a time of reflection. I am no different. I’d like to use my blog this week to reflect on some of the accomplishments MedShadow has achieved in 2018, as well as some observations about the FDA this year.
MedShadow’s Top 3 Achievements of 2018
1. The first thing to highlight about 2018 is that it was another year of growth in terms of people visiting the site and reading our content. We already have more than 1.3 million site visitors year-to-date, and we hope to make it to 1.4 million by Dec. 31. As far as content, we added the bi-weekly “Ask the Pharmacist” column from Dave Walker, who also happens to be on our MedShadow Medical Advisory Board. Also, this column, originally called FDA Watch, became known as Health Pulse and instead of running every other week, comes out weekly.
2. MedShadow also held its first-ever public event in November, Raising Awareness About the Side Effects of Medicines. It brought together patients, patient advocates, healthcare workers and political leaders to listen to medical professionals. The purpose was to improve efforts to inform the public about medications to improve their health care, as well as increase MedShadow’s exposure.
3. Last month, MedShadow filed an amicus curiae (“friend of the court”) brief in a US Supreme Court case, Merck v. Albrecht. The case involves the osteoporosis drug Fosamax (alendronate) and women who say their spontaneous fractures of the thigh bones were caused by the drug. At issue is how Merck dealt with updating the label of Fosamax when it became aware of the issue. Yesterday, Suzanne Robotti, MedShadow’s founder and executive director, had an op-ed piece published in STAT, one of the most well-respected health and medical websites that is followed by many in the pharmaceutical industry, about the case. The decision could impact how patients are able to hold drug companies accountable when they are harmed by a drug and seek damages in court.
Top 3 FDA Actions – and Inactions — of 2018
1. The FDA’s biggest offensive this year came in its assault on e-cigarettes amid growing numbers of young people using the devices. Between 2017 and 2018, the number of high school students using e-cigs increased by 78% from 2.1 million to about 3.6 million. Last month, the agency proposed new restrictions on the sale of flavored e-cigs, which are especially appealing to teens. In September, the FDA ordered the 5 biggest e-cig manufacturers to develop plans to curb use of their devices by teens. Earlier this year, the FDA conducted a surprise inspection of the offices of JUUL Labs, the nation’s largest e-cig manufacturer, seizing more than 1,000 documents.
2. Another product that found itself in the FDA’s crosshairs was kratom. The herb has a loyal following among many Americans who use it for its reported pain-relieving properties, as an alternative to opioids, to deal with the effects of opioid-use withdrawal, and even depression and anxiety. The FDA has issued several warnings on kratom this year. In February, the agency warned kratom has opioid-like qualities and can be potentially addictive. Earlier in the year, the agency issued several warnings about kratom products tainted with salmonella. Last month, the FDA said it found high levels of heavy metals in kratom samples it had tested. The FDA has linked at least 44 death to kratom, though kratom supporters say that is misleading as in nearly all those cases, the kratom was either adulterated with other substances or other potent drugs were found in the person’s system. The Drug Enforcement Agency may essentially ban kratom by making it a Schedule 1 substance – the same as heroin, LSD and marijuana – after the Department of Health and Human Services made the recommendation.
3. One area where the FDA could have – and should have – done more is to tighten regulation of the supplement industry. We have reported on many occasions about supplements being recalled for one reason or another. While drugs are also sometimes recalled, supplements do not have to conduct clinical trials to prove they actually say what they do in order to make it onto the market. Americans spend more than $40 billion a year on supplements, and in many, many cases, they are using products that are likely useless, and potentially harmful. It’s time for the FDA to require more rigorous testing of these products so that the claims on their labels are actually backed by scientific evidence.
Jonathan Block is MedShadow’s content editor. He has previously worked for Psychiatry Advisor, Modern Healthcare, Health Reform Week and The Pink Sheet.