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Drug Firms Jockey for Space Online

On YouTube, stories about an asthma drug.
On YouTube, stories about an asthma drug. (Youtube)
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-- Reckitt Benckiser, which makes Suboxone, a drug used to treat opiate dependency, provided a grant to the National Alliance of Advocates for Buprenorphine Treatment for the development of video vignettes about a man addicted to painkillers and his efforts to get clean. The "webisodes" are posted on YouTube, and the organization also has widgets on its Web site to share similar videos on Facebook (http://www.naabt.org/true_stories.cfm).

-- Sponsored by Acorda Pharmaceuticals, http://www.Iwalkbecause.org is a site for people with multiple sclerosis. It lets users share information about the condition, including why they choose to participate in a national fundraising walk. Acorda's drug for MS, Fampridine-SR, is being reviewed by the FDA.

-- Novartis is on Twitter (http://www.twitter.com/novartis). Its site largely follows internal news, such as a request from 30 governments for the company's swine flu vaccine. Johnson & Johnson and a handful of other drug firms are also twittering.

-- Johnson & Johnson also hosts a blog (http://www.jnjbtw.com) that is largely self-congratulatory about what the company is doing (see "Giving Back Image of the Week"). But it recently had a couple of interesting tidbits, including a J&J expert on the value of corporate wellness programs and a series of tips on keeping kids safe from injury.

A key thing to remember when viewing any drug information online, including consumer testimonials, is that the sites have not necessarily been vetted. Allen Vaida, executive vice president of the Institute for Safe Medication Practices, an advocacy group in Horsham, Pa., recommends getting the information verified by a physician before acting on what you "hear, see, link or twitter."

The FDA, in response to a request from the pharmaceutical industry, recently proposed guidelines on how information about risks should be portrayed in drug advertising. (The agency frowns on playing upbeat music while side effects are described, for example.) The guidelines are not binding, and public comments are being taken through the summer.

"The guidance does not change any of the rules that drug companies have been following," FDA spokeswoman Riley said. Existing rules, she said, require that any messages "be accurate, present a fair balance of risk and benefit information about the drug, and be non-misleading."

Comments: health@washpost.com.


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