Can the FDA stop snake oil salesmen?

A recent commentary (C Robertson, AS Kesselheim. NEJM 2016; 375: 2313-5) examines how the issue of “free speech” may undermine the FDA’s ability to regulate ineffective or dangerous medications. This has been discussed in a previous blog:

Can the FDA prohibit free speech?

In a previous case, Caronia had promoted sodium oxybate for a wide range of nonapproved uses; some of these uses “were likely to cause patients substantial harm.”

Yet, the 2nd Circuit court reversed a lower court in ruling that Caronia’s sale pitches were protected free speech.  This decision “subverted decades of presumptions about how the government could oversee the behavior of the pharmaceutical and medical device industries.”

The authors hope that an upcoming case to the 1st circuit will uphold the FDAs ability to assure that patients are protected and that the use of drugs is driven by science and not marketing.  If manufacturers are allowed to promote a wide range of uses for drugs with narrow indications, there will not be an incentive to determine if these medications are safe and effective.

My take: If the principles of free speech are extended to promoting bogus claims about pharmaceuticals and medical devices, this would be a huge blow to medical science.

Acadia Natl Park

Acadia Natl Park

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