Letters: Marketing Drugs For Osteopenia
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
Time now for your comments. Many of you e-mailed us about Alix Spiegel's report yesterday on the marketing of drugs for osteopenia.
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
Osteopenia is a slight thinning of the bones which occurs naturally as women age. It does not usually result in disabling bone breaks.
SIEGEL: Alix reported on efforts by Merck Pharmaceuticals to increase sales for a drug designed to treat serious bone thinning: osteoporosis. The idea which to build a market drug by getting more women tested. But the tests identified when women have the less serious condition: osteopenia. The result: Millions of women diagnosed with osteopenia are treated with bone-supporting drugs, such as Merck's. That's despite doubts over their effectiveness for the less severe condition. We heard about those doubts yesterday from Professor of medicine Susan Ott.
Dr. SUSAN OTT (Associate Professor of Medicine, University of Washington): There was no difference in how many fractures you had whether you took the medicine or a placebo. It does make your bone density go up higher, but the number of fractures is what really matters and that didn't really change.
NORRIS: What a damn fine piece of investigative journalism. That's from Bruce Stern(ph), a registered nurse from St. Raphael, California. And many of you agreed including Ruth Taber(ph) of El Paso, Texas. She's turning 81 this Thursday.
SIEGEL: She writes, when I took a densitometry scan about 10 years ago we laughed, my physician-husband and I at the results. What bone mineral density standards were being used, thirty-year-old chicks pumping iron and running every day? And Taber adds this, the medicalization of America continues, over-screening and over-prescribing. Will we ever learn? Probably not, when there's so much money to be made by vested interests.
NORRIS: A very different reaction came in from Melvin Nutig(ph). He's an orthopedic surgeon in Beverly Hills. He writes, I'm usually quite pleased with your health coverage, but this story, he says, really angered me. Dr. Nutig continues, the point is not whether osteopenia is over-diagnosed and treated but rather that osteopenia is an early stage of osteoporosis. And if it can be diagnosed early and treated, through a variety of means including medicine and weight-bearing activity, then middle-aged women will likely avoid the fate of their mothers and grandmothers of hip fractures.
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