We live in a culture that venerates the new: new fashions, new cars, new movies—and new “miracle” drugs. But like new cars that exhibit glitches leading to recalls, new drugs may have unexpected side effects.

Consider the now infamous diet-drug combination fen-phen (fenfluramine and phentermine). The drugs themselves were not new, but the combination was hailed as a “breakthrough” in 1992 when doctors began prescribing it regularly. After more than 6 million prescriptions had been written, the duo was found to cause heart valve damage.

Before gaining approval, new drugs must be tested in both lab animals and humans. But those tests often create little more than the illusion of safety. The FDA may approve a new drug based on studies that show benefits without significant side effects in 2,000 rats and 200 humans. But the drug may cause serious problems in one of every 5,000 users. It would take several years for enough people to experience the problem and to connect it to the drug. A General Accounting Office review of 198 of the 209 new drugs approved from 1976 to 1985 found that 52 percent had “serious postapproval risks.”

Of course, if you have a life-threatening illness, the benefits of new drugs outweigh the risks. But for less grave conditions, think twice before taking new drugs.—M.C.

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We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

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Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

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