Do you remember the old saying “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”? I do, and I try to follow it. It’s usually good advice. Board up your windows before a hurricane; brush your teeth so you won’t get cavities; change the oil on your car to help the engine last longer.
But when it comes to taking drugs to prevent future health problems, sometimes prevention causes more trouble than it’s worth. Especially when the people taking the drugs are healthy and the only reason to think they may be at risk for future disease is their score on a test marketed by the very same company that makes the drug. That’s what’s happening now with osteoporosis drugs called bisphosphonates (brand names such as Fosamax, Actonel, Boniva and Reclast).
There’s good evidence that these drugs can help people who have osteoporosis, especially those who have had bone fractures. But drug companies convinced the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to approve them for use in healthy postmenopausal women who had no symptoms of osteoporosis and no risk factors other than their age and the test showing that their bones were no longer as strong as those of younger women. NWHN warned back in the 1990s when these drugs were brand new that they might cause more problems than they would prevent, but the FDA ignored our cautions and approved the drugs for “prevention.”
Now evidence is emerging to show that the problems we warned about are real. Women who use these drugs for many years have unusually high rates of thigh fractures and death of the jaw bone. Women who were perfectly healthy before they started taking drugs to prevent osteoporosis are now suffering from pain and disabilities that appear to be caused by these drugs. Last week, several brave women testified at an FDA meeting about their experience with these drugs. They joined with NWHN to ask the FDA to take these risks seriously and restrict the use of bisphosphonates to patients with full-blown osteoporosis.
Officials at the meeting said the FDA would “re-visit” the use of bisphosphonates for prevention. That’s good news! But it’s only a first step. We need to make sure the FDA takes steps to restrict the use of these drugs as quickly as possible so more women won’t be exposed to unnecessary risks and harm. The FDA listened to the women who were able to speak up at the meeting – now they need to hear your voice, too. Please write to FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg and urge her to protect healthy women by restricting bisphosphonates to patients with full-blown osteoporosis.
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