Risk Or No Risk, Gimme That Drug

People are famously irrational in the way they assess risk, obsessing over longshot perils as they blithely court the common ones. It’s surprising, then, to find them taking in stride the news that some big-name drugs kill a few people from time to time. A survey by Find/SVP’s Advanced Analytics unit presented a tradeoff: Suppose you had constant, strong pain from a non-fatal condition, and your doctor had prescribed several drugs before finding one that eased the pain. If it turned out the drug brought a 3 percent increase in the long-term risk of heart attack or stroke, would you keep taking it? Twenty percent said they’d be “very likely” to continue and 37 percent “somewhat likely”; 15 percent said they would be “neither likely nor unlikely” to do so; and just 28 percent would be “somewhat unlikely” or “very unlikely” to keep taking it. If consumers are willing to take their chances with drugs, it’s not because they trust Big Pharma. As you can see from the chart, a majority think drug companies try to conceal the risks their products pose. (And note that over-the-counter drugs aren’t seen as paragons of safety.) People were mixed in their assessment of prescription-drug advertising. Asked whether ads achieve a “fair balance” (as required by law) in presenting risks and benefits, 51 percent said there’s “too much emphasis on benefits.” But nearly as many felt the ads either place “too much emphasis on risks” (36 percent) or strike “just the right balance” (13 percent).