A very nice person at Consumers Union e-mailed me to ask that I consider a post on this topic, and I am glad to oblige, even though it is a bit outside the usual focus of the blog.
CU has a campaign to petition the FDA to force all drug ads, including those on TV, to include an 800 number where people can report adverse drug reactions:
There are two reasons why such a move would be highly useful. First, the current FDA system for reporting adverse drug reactions is incredibly antiquated and catches, at best, 1 out of 10 such reactions. A true drug safety surveillance system would tap into existing large databases of patient medical records to give a genuine early warning of previously unknown drug reactions in real time.
But that in turn assumes that physicians are alert to drug reactions and faithfully mention them in the medical record. Recent research has shown troublesome findings in this area--physicians often blow off patient reports of even well-documented drug reactions. So there needs to be an independent route by which patients can directly report to the FDA.
Consumers Union has been on top of the issues of drug safety and drug costs, and deserves support. (Full disclosure: my wife and I subscribe to Consumer Reports, the magazine that CU publishes.) The Prescription Project, another top-notch outfit, is partnering with CU on this campaign, I am informed.