Americans Remain Confident in Drug Safety, Poll Finds

Most Americans say they're at least somewhat confident about the safety of prescription drugs sold in the United States, according to an Associated Press poll taken at a time when several popular medications have been linked to increased risk of heart attack and stroke.

The Food and Drug Administration, the federal agency responsible for ensuring drug safety, has come under intense scrutiny recently because of health risks linked to use of Vioxx (search), which was withdrawn from the market; Celebrex (search), and now Aleve (search), which is sold over-the-counter.

Just over eight in 10 said they have confidence in the general safety of prescription drugs in this country, the poll conducted for the AP by Ipsos-Public Affairs (search) found. Almost that many said they have confidence in the FDA.

But many of those people admit they have some worries.

Only about a third said they were "very confident" about the safety of prescription drugs in the United States and half said they were "somewhat confident."

Retiree Gabrielle Purvis says the barrage of news about possible drug problems is dizzying.

"You get so much instant information," said Purvis, who lives in Lottsburg, Va., near the Chesapeake Bay. "It's crazy. We end up with too much information that hasn't been properly analyzed."

The poll was taken after questions were raised last week about Celebrex and more than two months after Vioxx was withdrawn from the market. But the poll was taken before a study raised a possible heart attack-stroke link with naproxen, which is sold over the counter as Aleve.

About a fourth in the poll said they were "very confident" in the FDA's ability to ensure the safety of prescription drugs, with about half saying they were "somewhat confident."

Consumers of prescription drugs and over-the-counter medications have been hit by reports of a steady stream of high-profile problems.

--The popular arthritis drug Vioxx was pulled from the shelves by Merck on Sept. 30 because of evidence it increased the risk of heart attack and strokes.

--Late last week, another popular pain reliever, Celebrex, was found to increase the risk of heart attack when taken in high doses. The manufacturer Pfizer has suspended advertising, but the pain reliever is still on the market.

--Officials at the National Institutes of Health on Monday halted a study of naproxen, an over-the-counter pain reliever commonly sold under the brand name Aleve, because of possible links to heart attacks and strokes.

These reports -- and questions about other prescription drugs in recent years -- have led critics of the FDA to claim the agency approves drugs too quickly, doesn't follow up effectively on possible health effects and is too close to the drug companies.

In another high profile case, the FDA was criticized for not acting quickly enough to issue warnings that anti-depressant use by children could increase suicidal thoughts and behavior.

White House chief of staff Andy Card defended the FDA last weekend, saying it does "a spectacular job."

But some people say they've grown suspicious of the drug approval process.

"Corporate people are cutting corners for the profit," said Mike Powell, a manufacturing engineer from Houston.

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., said Tuesday that he is working with Republicans on legislation that would give the FDA more authority and money to monitor drugs after approval. "Too many American lives have been unnecessarily put at risk," he said.

Many Americans have a strong personal interest in prescription drug safety, given that three-fourths of those polled said they had taken a prescription drug in the last year.

Of those prescription drug users, just over six in 10 said they have talked with a doctor about possible side effects of a new prescription drug. Men were more likely than women to have discussed possible side effects with their doctors.

Sean Malroy, a 34-year-old composer from Los Angeles, said he asks the doctor for more information about prescriptions, but often doesn't read the accompanying pamphlets "unless I have further questions."

Most in the poll, 85 percent, said they read at least some of the information in the drug pamphlets. Women were more likely than men to read those pamphlets.

"I'm a chemist so I'm curious about this stuff," said retiree Lynn TenKate of the Chicago suburbs. "You have to take responsibility for knowing, because it's your body."

Only one in six people who took prescription drugs of any kind in the last year, 14 percent, said they have asked their doctor or pharmacist to re-examine the drugs they were taking since Vioxx was taken off the market in late September and other drugs have been questioned.

Among those who used Vioxx, Celebrex or Bextra -- all painkillers known as cox-2 inhibitors -- a third have asked their doctor or pharmacist to reassess the prescription drugs they are taking.

While the FDA opposes importation of drugs because of safety concerns, two-thirds of Americans favor allowing importation of such drugs "from Canada and other countries," because those drugs are often less expensive.

The AP-Ipsos poll of 1,002 adults was taken Dec. 17-19 and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points, slightly higher for the 773 prescription drug users polled.