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Questions about Singulair and suicide

Rating

4 Star

Questions about Singulair and suicide

Our Review Summary

This broadcast segment follows the FDA’s decision to investigate a possible link between the asthma/allergy drug Singulair and suicide. It demonstrates both virtues and vices of medical reporting. 

Among its virtues:

  • Interviewing a clinician who prescribes the drug, helping viewers understand what this news means to them or their loved ones. While too brief and unspecific, it’s useful context.
  • Checking the drugmaker’s assertion that the side effect information was disclosed–and reporting it is difficult for a consumer to find.

Among its vices:

  • Putting a single, tragic suicide at the center of the piece. This has the effect of exaggerating the certainty of the link between the drug and suicide–and generating more fear than is justified by the facts as they are now known.

This segment illustrates how news organizations’ desire to find "real people" to add "a human element" to health stories often winds up creating a context that prevents people from understanding the facts and what they mean to them.

Criteria

Does the story adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?

Not Satisfactory

The price of the drug is not reported.

Does the story adequately quantify the benefits of the treatment/test/product/procedure?

Not Satisfactory

The segment specifies that four suicides, and a higher number of other mental health effects, have been reported to the FDA.  

It also specifies that 11,000 patients participated in the pre-approval clinical trials and with no reports of similar incidents. 

But it fails to make clear to viewers the important differences between data from clinical trials and from post-surveillance voluntary reports.  

The story didn’t quantify potential benefits. 

Does the story adequately explain/quantify the harms of the intervention?

Satisfactory

The story is fundamentally about alleged harmful side effects of the drug, so this criterion is clearly established.

Does the story seem to grasp the quality of the evidence?

Satisfactory

The segment is based on an FDA investigation and labeling changes that follow post-marketing reports of four suicides and mental disorders. This is adequate evidence on which to base this news report.

Does the story commit disease-mongering?

Not Satisfactory

By emphasizing one tragic story about a teenager who took the drug and committed suicide, the segment exaggerates the likelihood that the two are linked. 

Does the story use independent sources and identify conflicts of interest?

Satisfactory

The segment draws on data from pre-approval and post-marketing trials, an interview with the family of a teenager who committed suicide after taking Singulair, and an interview with a clinical specialist in asthma and allergies.

It also reports its own observation that information about the side effects is buried on the drugmaker’s website.

 

 

Does the story compare the new approach with existing alternatives?

Satisfactory

The perspective of the clinician who prescribes Singulair and other drugs for asthma and allergies provides an adequate, if brief, discussion of treatment options.

Does the story establish the availability of the treatment/test/product/procedure?

Satisfactory

The segment makes clear that Singulair is widely used.

Does the story establish the true novelty of the approach?

Not Applicable

Singulair is widely used, so its novelty is not in question.

Does the story appear to rely solely or largely on a news release?

Satisfactory

The report was triggered by the FDA’s action, not a company press release.

Total Score: 6 of 9 Satisfactory

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