Following a spate of drug withdrawals, 70% of US consumers would now prefer to take a drug that has been on the market for more than ten years. The news comes in a survey from Medco Health, a unit of Merck & Co, which has recently pulled its painkiller Vioxx (rofecoxib) from the market after evidence showing an increased risk of heart attack and stroke [[01/10/04a]].

The Medco Monitor, which surveyed 1,092 insured adults, was developed to assess consumer perceptions – and, disturbingly, also found that one third of consumers believe newer drugs are less safe than older ones. Said Hal Quinley, vice president, Yankelovich, which conducted the survey for Medco: “The findings of this survey underscore that the safety concerns affecting specific drug classes cast a long and dark shadow colouring the broader perception of all new drugs, and how consumers are willing to sacrifice effectiveness to ensure their own safety.”

In the last year, patients have been rocked by a number of product scandals, including the finding of a link between antidepressants and suicidal feelings [[23/03/04a]], as well as the withdrawal of Vioxx, which was shortly followed by Pfizer’s COX-2 inhibitor Bextra after it was also linked to heart attack and stroke [[08/04/05a]]. Most recently Elan and Biogen Idec were forced to pull their multiple sclerosis drug Tysabri (natalizumab) after a patient developed a rare brain infection and died [[01/03/05a]].

Consumers place safety first - even if it means foregoing incremental benefits that may be offered with newer medicines, the survey concluded.