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Study: Older diabetes drugs safe to use


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Study: Older diabetes drugs safe to use

Our Review Summary

The story reports that several types of blood sugar lowering drugs have similar benefits, despite dramatic differences in cost among the various drug types.  The story met many of our review criteria, including availability, cost, type of evidence, and benefits.  It would have been better if more details about the impact of these drugs on cardiovascular endpoints, like heart attack, could have been included in addition to impact on blood sugar. One area that could have been improved was harms of treatment.  Since the story’s headline claims older drugs are safe, there should have been some data to support this in the story. As it was, only patterns of side effects were reported for various drugs, which doesn’t tell the reader how often these might occur or how serious these might be.  Another area that could have been improved was treatment alternatives.  Although perhaps not the focus of the study, lifestyle efforts to lower blood sugar are another important treatment step that is not mentioned. 


Does the story adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?


The story does mention costs of some, but not all, drugs.  Importantly, though, it does compare costs of both a high-cost drug (Avandia) and a low-cost drug (metformin), which provides readers an idea of the price difference that’s at issue here.  However the cost estimate of $100 a year for metformin is probably lower than what most consumers can actually get access to.

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


The article does report that most diabetes medications studied reduced blood sugar (A1C) by about 1%, which is an absolute benefit.  Importantly, the article points out that since this reduction applied to most drugs tested, there wasn’t a real benefit to choosing newer, more costly drugs. 

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

Not Satisfactory

The story does mention some harms of various drugs, which are named followed by a relative description that these occur more than with other drugs.  Side effects mentioned included increases in cholesterol, weight gain, low blood sugar, diarrhea or digestive problems, and heart failure.  However, given that the headline of the story claims these drugs are safe, some data supporting that these are safe should have been included.  Readers aren’t provided with actual numbers of people experiencing or an indication of how serious these might be.  In addition, an extremely rare side effect of metformin, lactic acidosis, is given as much attention and weight as low blood sugar for sulfonylureas.  Yet the article does attempt to give readers a relative idea of which ones have which pattern of side effects and notes that all medicines have side effects and that people with diabetes should pick the medication with the side effect profile that matters most to them. 

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


The story does describe the type of study that the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality commissioned, namely a review, which is not a randomized clinical trial in and of itself, but another type of evidence which can be robust.  It also describes that the researchers reviewed 200 studies and obtained both published and non-published data for analysis.   The article would have been strengthened if it had emphasized a bit more that there is very limited clinical trial data that actually compares each of these medications to each other and that most of the studies incorporated were of inadequate size of duration to measure many of the outcomes that are of the greatest interest to patients and clinicians, such as myocardial infarctions and strokes. 

Does the story commit disease-mongering?


No obvious disease-mongering.  The story does mention diabetes risk factors and provides a measure of how many people are affected by this condition.   

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


Multiple sources are used, both in opposition to and in support of the findings. 

Does the story compare the new approach with existing alternatives?

Not Satisfactory

The story describes multiple oral medications to lower blood sugar and additionally mentions insulin, although not in detail.  What isn’t mentioned is lifestyle changes to lower blood sugar as a treatment alternative or adjunct.  Specifically the role of diet, exercise, and weight loss, three of the mainstays of treatment for diabetes, were not mentioned. 

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


The story mentions that a study compared "older" drugs, some of which have come out 50 years ago, to "newer" drugs which have come out in the past 10 years. 

Does the story establish the true novelty of the approach?


The article states the study compares "older" and "newer" drugs.  It is true, most of the medications that are categorized as "new" are more than 5 years old.  At the same time, only once these medications are used in large numbers of persons in the population do we get an accurate impression of the real benefits and harms. 

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


Multiple sources are used, so does not appear to rely on press release. 

Total Score: 8 of 10 Satisfactory


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