Fright knights

The Madison County Record Jul. 25, 2009, 6:00pm

The economy may be struggling, but scare-mongering is a growth industry.

We were reminded of as much this week reading a prominent doctor's harrowing commentary on a much-maligned wonder drug named Avandia. The maligners aren't health care folks. No, some of the troublemakers are members of that breed of plaintiff lawyers not unlike local serial suer John Driscoll, who hope to stir up enough controversy to scare a drug company into forking over a big cash settlement. That's despite the fact that countless studies--including one by the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute--confirm Avandia is safe.

The scare tactics don't have to be based on truth to have real world consequences, says Dr. Matthew Mintz, an internist at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. He estimates the negative publicity about Avandia--much of which has been ginned up by plaintiff-hunting lawyers--has caused 100,000 American diabetics to stop taking their medicine.

"There were many patients who were unnecessarily worried that the medication their doctors prescribed might be killing them," Dr. Mintz said of the negative publicity. "Similarly, physicians were worried that a medication they thought they were giving their patients to help them, might have caused harm."

In addition, Mintz noted, "many patients simply stopped taking their diabetes medications, and many of those patients did not tell their doctor about this."

The issue involves men like Driscoll, who filed suit in St. Clair County last February on behalf of two plaintiffs alleging they suffered "adverse effects" from their use of the anti-diabetic drug Avandia, manufactured by GlaxoSmithKline. He and his clients seek damages in excess of $350,000, plus attorney's fees.

When a six-year-old comes home from school and announces he's a vegetarian, you have to wonder if some overly zealous teacher has been telling horror stories about the savage abuse of cute little moo-cows.

When a nervous mom chases down the morning school bus to retrieve a delicious, nutritious apple from her child's lunchbox, you surmise the anti-herbicide lobby has pushed her maternal buttons.

And when diabetics stop taking the medicine that keeps them alive and healthy, you could speculate that certain types of trial attorneys are trolling for fresh plaintiffs.

The scare-mongers don't have to win a case to have a serious impact on our lives. That's the really frightening prospect of it all.

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