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Cure for alcoholism?

Rating

2 Star

Cure for alcoholism?

Our Review Summary

This television news segment reports on the claim that a drug called Baclofan successfully treated a French physician’s alcoholism. It draws on the opinion of a single medical expert who has ambivalent comments on it.

There is nothing wrong with airing a segment about one doctor’s unusual claim. Indeed, given the book’s popularity, you could argue a report is useful to the public.

Unfortunately, the producer and reporter fail to follow medical journalism best practices:

  • They consult a single medical source
  • They fail to acknowledge the powerful controversy and negative opinion the book is creating in the medical field
  • They fail to describe the little research that does exist about the drug’s use in alcoholics
  • They fail to mention the drug’s side effects, which can be serious.

The viewer’s takeaway is likely to be: A French doctor says a pill cured his alcoholism. I wonder if [name of friend or family member] should try it?

Given how little is known about the pill and the singularity of the doctor’s experience, this is not a good outcome.

Alcoholism is a serious, deadly disease. Alcoholics and their loved ones are very hopeful for a "cure." They deserve a more diligent, detailed, responsible report than this one. 

Criteria

Does the story adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?

Not Satisfactory

The story does not state the price of the drug or what the duration of the treatment would be.

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

Not Satisfactory

No data is cited about the effectiveness of the drug.

While the segment mentions that the drug has "had little success in clinical trials," this should have been explored a bit more. The lack of proof of efficacy is too central to a viewer’s understanding of the story to justify simply mentioning it in passing. The expert interviewed heaps more hope on the pill by saying that in combination with other drugs it looks even better.  Where’s the data?

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

Not Satisfactory

The segment does not mention Baclofen’s risks, which include respiratory failure, irregular heartbeat, fainting and vomiting. There is also a risk of withdrawl syndrome when the drug is stopped after chronic use.

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

Not Satisfactory

The report is based on the general topic of a book written by a French physician. We know nothing about his credibility or the nature of the book, aside from that it’s a "best seller."

The report should have made clear whether the book contains any evidence other than the single case of the author’s experience. 

The one line at the very end is too little too late – "Dr. Garbutt says Baclofen has had little success in clinical trials and doesn’t work for all alcoholics."  What does "little success" mean?  How many does it not work for?  What’s the evidence? 

Does the story commit disease-mongering?

Satisfactory

The story does not overstate the severity or prevalence of alcoholism. It resists using anecdotes to create emotion.

Having said that, the visuals that accompany this story–exotic drinks in upscale venues–create one visual portrayal of alcohol dependence. A bigger picture would portray people in cheap liquor stores, car wrecks, ERs and homeless shelters. The story runs the risk of conveying the message:  "Don’t you wish it were safe for you (suffering alcoholic) to indulge in drinking the way these people can?  This magic bullet should excite you!" 

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

Not Satisfactory

The segment interviews one expert on alcoholism.

That’s not sufficient for a story that highlights a provocative, suspect claim about a serious and deadly condition.

Does the story compare the new approach with existing alternatives?

Not Satisfactory

The story mentions that other drugs are used to treat alcoholism, and the opinion that Baclofen may eventually play a role in multiple-drug approaches.  Naltrexone is mentioned but other approved medications are not (i.e. acamprosate and disulfiram).  

The story should have mentioned the success rate of controlling alcoholism with medications or other treatments– which include psychotherapy with community self-help and treatment of withdrawal–so viewers could put this potential treatment in context. 

Current treatments include psychotherapy and community self-help and treatment of withdrawal.

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

Satisfactory

The segment makes clear that the drug Baclofen is a widely used muscle relaxer. The images on screen make clear that it is a prescription drug, not an over-the-counter product.

Does the story establish the true novelty of the approach?

Satisfactory

The story makes clear that the drug is widely used but its application to alcoholism is novel.

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

Not Applicable

We can’t be sure what prompted the story – why the author of the book on which all the news is based wasn’t interviewed – and why the expert who was interviewed was chosen.  

Total Score: 3 of 9 Satisfactory

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