Consumers Confident in Prescription Drugs, AP Study Says

Published February 1, 2005

An end-of-year Associated Press poll showed that, despite recent product withdrawals and reported health risks of popular medicines, U.S. consumer confidence in the safety of prescription drugs remains high.

Despite the recent removal from the market of the arthritis drug Vioxx and the reports of health risks posed by other Cox-2 inhibitors–Celebrex and naproxen (sold over the counter as Aleve) among them–84 percent of poll participants said that, overall, they were “very confident” or “somewhat confident” in the safety of prescription drugs sold in the United States. Only 5 percent were “not at all confident.”

At the same time, a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) study, “Health, United States, 2004,” showed almost half of all Americans are taking at least one prescription medicine, and one in six are taking three or more medications.

“Americans are taking medicines that lower cholesterol and reduce the threat of heart disease, that help lift people out of debilitating depressions, and that keep diabetes in check,” said outgoing HHS Secretary Tommy G. Thompson.

Prescription drug use is rising among people of all ages, the study showed, and use increases with age. Five of six persons 65 and older are taking at least one medication, and almost half the elderly take three or more.

Confident in FDA

The AP poll, conducted by Ipsos-Public Affairs in December, found Americans believe the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the agency responsible for ensuring the safety of prescription drugs in the United States, is doing a good job.

When asked about the FDA’s ability to ensure the safety of prescription drugs sold in the United States, 77 percent of respondents in the AP poll said they were “very confident” or “somewhat confident.” Seven percent said they were “not at all confident.”


AP-Ipsos researched attitudes about prescription drugs and drug safety through telephone interviews with 1,002 randomly selected adults, of whom 773 had taken prescription drugs in the past year. The interviews were conducted in December 2004.

Unaffected by Scares

Seventy-four percent of people interviewed for the survey reported having taken prescription drugs within the past year. Of those individuals, 62 percent said they had discussed the risks with their doctors, but only 46 percent had talked to their pharmacists about the potential risks or side effects of the drugs.

Almost all of the patients, 85 percent, said they read the pamphlet information that came with their medications.

When respondents were asked about the withdrawal of the painkiller Vioxx, 86 percent said news stories about drug safety did not lead them to ask their doctors or pharmacists to reassess their prescribed drugs.

In one long-term cancer trial, Celebrex had “demonstrated an increased cardiovascular risk over placebo,” according to a December statement released by Pfizer, the maker of the drug. The statement pointed out Celebrex is approved for use for the treatment of arthritis and pain in dosages one-eighth to one-quarter of the dosages used in the cancer trial.

“In placing this new information in context,” said Joseph Feczko, president of worldwide development for Pfizer, “it is important to understand that the [cancer] trial results differ from … the large body of data that we and others have accumulated over time in which an increased risk of serious cardiovascular events in arthritis patients, even at higher-than-recommended doses, had not been seen.”

No Confidence in Imports

Sally Pipes, president and chief executive officer of the San Francisco-based Pacific Research Institute, was not surprised by the results of the AP poll. “Americans do have confidence in U.S. drugs. The drug companies conduct post-monitoring, new trials, and submit all the new information to the FDA.”

Imported drugs, however, do not inspire the same confidence, Pipes points out. “If drug importation becomes the law and Canada is put in the position of supplying the United States, which the Canadian health minister has already said cannot happen, Internet companies will be importing drugs from offshore companies that have not been tested according to Canada’s Therapeutic Practices Directorate Guidelines or anything else.”

The responsibility should be shared by those dispensing and taking the drugs, Pipes says. “It is up to doctors and patients to discuss certain conditions or warnings and decide what is best for the patient. And American consumers have confidence in that process.”

Susan Konig ([email protected]) is managing editor of Health Care News.