As if drugs weren't dangerous enough already, doctors often use them as 'off-label' therapies as well. It's a medical euphemism for playing around with drugs in ways for which they've not been approved or tested for their safety.
'Off-label' prescribing is rampant, as researchers have discovered. In one study of 7,752 heart patients, they found that drug-eluting stents - metal tubes that release a drug to help stop restenosis, where artery walls become blocked by plaque - were wrongly used in 47 per cent of all cases.
Worse, this inappropriate use endangered the lives of the patients, who were more than twice as likely to die or suffer a serious heart attack than someone whose stent was used properly.
The patient whose stent was used inappropriately faced this level of risk for up to a year following the procedure.
(Source: Journal of the American Medical Association, 2007; 297: 1992-2000).
E-news broadcast 17 May 2007 No.360