Questions for FDA Commisssioner Nominee

Suzanne B. Robotti
Suzanne B. Robotti Executive Director


Many people have questioned whether cardiologist Robert Califf, MD, has the ability to maintain (or rebuild, depending on one’s point of view) the wall between the FDA drug approval process and inappropriate intervention from pharmaceutical companies if he is selected to be the next Commissioner of the governmental agency. Dr. Califf has worked closely with most pharma companies and the very fact that those companies aren’t opposing his nomination encourages speculation that the FDA will slip even further into closer alignment with pharma’s goals.

Questions regarding Dr. Califf’s ties to the pharmaceutical industry are important and need to be fully explored. However, independence is only one worthwhile question for him. I have many more for Dr. Califf or any FDA Commissioner nominee:


What will you do about the 2.3 million people who are rushed to the ER each year due to side effects of drugs prescribed to them? Or those 117,752 deaths due to adverse drug events in 2013? That’s nearly 4x as many fatalities from guns, 33,380.


You state that you want to institute an adverse events reporting system for medical devices, similar to the existing one for drug reporting. Have you ever tried to look up a drug on that system? As a consumer, I have found it to be a nightmare of charts, repetitious and incomplete information. What will you do to improve the FAERS system?


Seniors take multiple prescription and OTC meds daily. About 35% take 5 or more prescription medicines. Older adults are 2x as likely as others to arrive at emergency departments for adverse drug events. Do you see a role for the FDA in reducing medication errors that cause adverse events or an agency effort to decrease the incidence of the over-medication of seniors?


What will you do about doctors giving drugs never tested on children to children?


The US and New Zealand are the only 2 countries that allow prescription drug advertising directly to consumers (DTC). What is your opinion about the benefits vs the risks of DTC drug advertising? Would you consider joining the AMA in calling for an end to this practice?


What is the FDA’s responsibility in ensuring that drugs approved for a specific, narrow group of patients do not become broadly prescribed? Example: opioids and the growing death toll from the overuse and addiction of these painkillers.


Off-label prescribing has been shown to have a significantly higher rate of adverse events, according to a Canadian study published this month in JAMA. Is there a way to control and lower the amount of off-label prescribing? Do you see a need for this?


What about post-approval studies? Why aren’t pharma companies penalized for not getting them done instead of being granted extension after extension? A “common” side effect is one that happens in 1 in 100 users. When a study includes only 100, 250 or 500 people, that side effect, even though common, may not be detected until the medicine has been approved and is in the marketplace. Post-approval studies are the best way to track and inform people about the growing list of known side effects for any drug.


Will you demand that all research, even those studies stopped or not published, be submitted for review during the approval process?

Do you have questions? Write the members of the Senate Committee that is making the recommendation regarding the FDA Commissioner nominee to the full Senate. The committee is named HELP. Write soon as the recommendation will head to the full Senate soon.

All the Senators on the HELP (Health, Education, Labor, & Pensions) Committee are listed in the chart below. If one of your Senators is on the committee, please send your Senator’s health care staffer a message. Also send emails to the leaders of the HELP Committee: Chairman Lamar Alexander’s (R-TN) staffer and Ranking Member Patty Murray’s (D-WA) staffer.

If neither of your senators are on the HELP Committee, please send emails ONLY to Senator Alexander’s and Senator Murray’s staffers. Staff members for the HELP Committee are listed at the end of the link above. NOTE: If the list indicates more than one staffer for your senator, send your letter to all of those staffers.

Thank you to the National Center for Health Research for guidance in writing Senators on the HELP Committee.

US Senate HELP Committee

Fname Lname State Committee Assignment StaffFname Email Address
Lisa Murkowski AK HELP Garret [email protected]
Christopher Murphy CT HELP Joe [email protected]
Mark Kirk IL HELP Mark [email protected]
Rand Paul KY HELP Natalie [email protected]
Elizabeth Warren MA HELP Remy [email protected]
Barbara A. Mikulski MD HELP Jessica [email protected]
Barbara A. Mikulski MD HELP Amanda [email protected]
Al Franken MN HELP Erica [email protected]
Bernard Sanders VT HELP Sophie [email protected]
Tammy Baldwin WI HELP Kathleen [email protected]
Bill Cassidy LA HELP Robb [email protected]
Bill Cassidy LA HELP Brenda [email protected]
Sheldon Whitehouse RI HELP Jennifer [email protected]
Sheldon Whitehouse RI HELP Anna [email protected]
Susan M. Collins ME HELP Betsy [email protected]
Susan M. Collins ME HELP Olivia [email protected]
Susan M. Collins ME HELP Amanda [email protected]
Lamar Alexander TN HELP, Chair Grace [email protected]
Michael F. Bennet CO HELP Rina [email protected]
Johnny Isakson GA HELP Jordan [email protected]
Johnny Isakson GA HELP William [email protected]
Pat Roberts KS HELP Emily [email protected]
Richard Burr NC HELP Natasha [email protected]
Robert P. Casey PA HELP Sarah [email protected]
Tim Scott SC HELP Chuck [email protected]
Michael B. Enzi WY HELP Tara [email protected]
Orrin G. Hatch UT HELP Jay [email protected]
Patty Murray WA HELP, Rank Member Melanie [email protected]
Patty Murray WA HELP, Ranking Member Wade [email protected]
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