The media seems to look for stories that show how dangerous prescription drugs can be. They routinely exploit consumer fears by over hyping a bad side effect or a death from a drug. “Deadly drug in your medicine cabinet” seems to be a popular story that is used as a teaser to get viewer attention and boost ratings.
The media seems to disregard the potential harm these stories do to patients who are taking these drugs and stop therapy after seeing the hyped risk story. Then there are those who will be scared to start taking them who would benefit. There was a very good story on Vox on an estimate of British consumers who stopped taking Lipitor. The London School of Hygiene studied the effect of negative media reporting on the use of Lipitor. They estimated 200,000 patients stopped taking the drug and estimated 2000 might suffer heart related events because of it.
The popular media outlets have enormous power and influence. The news media can create overhyped fear. Take the Ebola virus coverage which caused enormous concern over visitors from stricken countries. The media can serve a very useful role in public health but generally errs on the side of hyping fear. Fear gets viewers and ratings.
What I would love to see is fair reporting in the appropriate context. Zika may be a big problem but the overwhelming number of pregnant moms will not contract it. Fear changes behavior and can lead to unintended negative health consequences. Look at the anti vaccine movement led by many non-scientists. They have managed to use their anecdotal stories to convince parents to eschew vaccines and cause outbreaks of measles and whooping cough. The media has given these anti-vaccine proponents coverage who have no scientific evidence to prove their claims.
Drug companies are particular targets of negative coverage. The media seems to be very willing to savage a drug when a death is attributed to one. In the guise of exposing their supposed urgent news, they are in fact scaring people off life saving therapy. They force physicians to field calls from anxious patients asking to be taken off the drug mentioned. Sometimes the media may be right in exposing a bad drug but it happens rarely. Most of the time they over hype the negative leading to bad decisions by patients.
Drug companies sometimes are forced to withdraw a good drug because the negative press makes selling it difficult. Lawyers jump on the media coverage with their DTC ads asking patients to call to see if they can sue. Physicians get scared away from prescribing a media criticized drug. The FDA gets pressured to pull the drug or add severe warnings. The frenzy deprives patients of a perfectly good alternative.
This Vox story is a good example of what can happen from negative media coverage that unfortunately is so common.