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Drug companies may soon have to tweet dangerous side effects

Drug companies may soon have to tweet dangerous side effects


Big Pharma is about to get a lot more retweet action

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The FDA has proposed a new set of social media guidelines that will require drug companies to tweet their products’ side-effects to the world, reports The Wall Street Journal. Though still tentative, the proposal would make it so that all the benefits and the side-effects of a company's products — even the most dangerous ones — will need to be condensed in single, 140-character tweet.

if they can't fit all the information, "the firm should reconsider using Twitter."

If a firm "concludes that adequate benefit and risk information, as well as other required information, cannot all be communicated within the same tweet, then the firm should reconsider using Twitter for the intended promotional message," the FDA wrote in the regulations.

Already, there has been a ton of backlash from the drug companies, but also from people who believe that the regulations limit free speech. "The result is a restriction on free speech intended to protect consumers from a phantom danger," Brittany La Couture, a health policy analyst at the American Action Forum wrote in a statement. La Couture’s assertion also hints at the possibility that people who need not fear certain side-effects will end up doing so anyway, and might therefore forgo treatment altogether. But given that the FDA already asks drug companies to list side-effects in television ads that proclaim a drug’s benefits, tweets really shouldn’t be viewed any differently (that’s if you don’t think too hard about these tweets’ immense potential for going viral, of course).

they can still remind the public that their product exists

It should be noted that the guidelines won’t actually stop pharmaceutical companies from tweeting about their drugs or devices if they can’t fit all the information in a single tweet. If they want to remind customers that their products exist, they’ll still be able to do so. But the minute that they include a product’s benefits, the tweet will also have to include a long list of side-effects.

The guidelines won’t just affect Twitter, however, because they’ll require companies to contact bloggers to ask for changes to articles that contain misinformation. Wikipedia will also be affected, as companies will now be asked to alter pages relating to their products if they contain false labeling details. Those edits, the FDA says, will have to be credited to the company employee or contractor who made them. "This is not an opportunity for a company to tout its drugs," Tom Abrams, head of the FDA Office of Prescription Drug Promotion, told the Wall Street Journal. The information "should be factually correct" and "consistent with the FDA approved [product] labeling."

If approved, the guidelines will go into effect in a little less than 90 days.