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The Use of Off-Label Prescriptions Often Lacking in Scientific Evidence

Last week, I told you about the horrifying use of off-label antipsychotic drugs prescribed for kids, and with disastrous results. Based on a new study in this week's Archives of Internal Medicine, the problem with off-label drugs is far more widespread and worse than I had imagined.

Using the 2001 IMS Health National Disease and Therapeutic Index to define patterns among the 160 most commonly prescribed drugs, 21 percent of the medications prescribed in 2001 -- some 150 million prescriptions -- were defined as off-label. Even worse, 73 percent of those off-label drugs were prescribed, absent any strong scientific evidence they would work.

The most commonly prescribed off-label drugs were cardiac medications and anticonvulsants (both 46 percent). Some of the most widely used off-label drugs:

One researcher who worked on the study hit the problem right on the head, suggesting patients should take ask more questions about the drugs their physicians prescribe, rather than assume FDA approval ensures safety, which we've seen time and again isn't the case.

Archives of Internal Medicine, Vol. 166, No. 9, May 8, 2006: 1021-1026

USA Today May 9, 2006

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