New web technology may help in assessing drug side effects

With over 100,000 people dying yearly due to drug side effects, clearly we could benefit from a new way to assess the risk of drugs.

Pharmaceutical companies always downplay the side effects. Always. And doctors are frequently too busy, or just don’t care, so many adverse reactions to prescription drugs go unreported.

But there could be some changes in store.

Using data drawn from queries entered into Google, Microsoft and Yahoo search engines, scientists have for the first time been able to detect evidence of unreported prescription drug side effects before they were found by the FDA’s so-called “warning system.”

Using automated software tools to examine queries by six million Internet users, the researchers looked for searches relating to an antidepressant and a cholesterol lowering drug. They were able to find evidence that the combination of the two drugs caused high blood sugar.

As with any new idea or technology, the system already has its detractors; however, the mindful person wants to avail themselves to any and all sources of information. So, if this technology is not discredited and prevented from being widely used, it could soon be one more tool that can be taken advantage of by those willing to do his or her own research.

For those of us who don’t assume that the medical-pharmaceutical industrial complex is always operating in our best interest, the ability to cross-reference side effects across a broad spectrum of millions of users would be a welcome sight.

Read more about the research at New York Times here.

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