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Recent polls suggest that Americans are looking for alternatives to pricey doc visits and medical procedures as the recession takes its toll. From switching to generic prescriptions to trying natural supplements instead of medication altogether, we’re desperate to pop less expensive pills.
Aside from the obvious health hazards of cutting these corners, the new thrifty patient trend raises questions about the extent to which medical products, natural and non, are scrutinized and legislated. The FDA is by no means perfect (see here for their top screw-ups), but their approval is, at least, indication that what you’re taking has been tested by someone in a lab coat.
A round-up of what is – and isn’t – FDA approved:
Prescription meds: New drugs undergo an application process and testing, with FDA approval meaning that they’re “safe if used as directed.” Before a drug can become an over-the-counter offering, it needs to undergo another set of tests. The process isn’t quick, either: usually it takes 7 years from application to approval. But what the hell are they doing? A 2006 Institute of Medicine report found major shortcomings in the current FDA drug testing system. Examples of things you can do in 7 years: get a PhD, have 7 babies, digest a piece of gum. Approve a new cholesterol med? Eh, maybe.
Generics: Basically just a copy-cat of a drug whose patent has expired, a new generic undergoes tests to ensure that it is interchangeable with the name brand counterpart (which, we assume, underwent the scrupulous 7 year process discussed above). The drug need not have the same ingredients, it just has to do the same thing. In the 1980s, FDA officials were convicted of exchanging bribes for generic med approval…not good news for penny-pinchers out there.
Cosmetics: Put down your lipstick. While cosmetics are under the jurisdiction of the FDA, the agency does very little safety testing unless the cosmetic is making some kind of health claim, which would classify it as a drug. The FDA doesn’t require the testing of cosmetics by companies, nor do they review ingredients or require product labeling. Maybe she’s born with it, but maybe it’s a rash from her blush…
Natural supplements: The FDA “oversees” $18 million worth of natural supplements each year, and sales of these products has grown steadily, and surged in the last few months. But buyer beware, because the supplements aren’t subject to the same safety tests as drugs, and have no approval requirements. Manufacturers can even make specific claims of health benefits on their labels, though they can’t claim to treat or cure an illness. The FDA is kind enough, though, to warn consumers when they might get cancer or drop dead from their supplements.
Marijuana: Nope. This one’s not FDA approved. According to their 2006 statement on thie matter, pot just didn’t pass those meticulous tests for safety and effectiveness. But I guess this one slipped by…
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