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Sources Of Information About Prescription Drugs


Sources of information about prescription drugs include the following. 


Ask your doctor about all the pros and cons of taking any drug she prescribes, as well as the alternatives. To help, print a copy of the Drug Questionnaire and file it with the papers you take to each doctor's appointment. (For more information on what to take to an appointment, see How To Prepare For A Doctor's Appointment.

To be sure the doctor communicates well, repeat back what the doctor said about a drug in your own words.

If there are several alternatives to choose from, ask your doctor: "If you had a child of your own in my situation, what would you suggest he or she do, and why?" Asking what the doctor would recommend to his child allows the doctor to express his/her opinions hypothetically, which may alleviate fears about liability that would normally prevent him/her from giving an opinion.

Let the doctor know you would like more information about the drug and ask if there is any literature about it you can take home. Also ask where she would suggest you look for more information about this particular drug.


Pharmacists are one of the most trusted members of health care teams. They generally have at least as much information about drugs as your doctor has, and probably have more time to share that information with you.

Choose a pharmacist with the same care and consideration that you use in choosing a physician.

Ask the pharmacist your remaining questions. See Drug QuestionnaireChoosing A Pharmacist.

Support Groups and Buddies

Support groups and buddies can be an important source of information, particularly when people have the same health condition.

People in support groups and experienced buddies have been known to do so much research that they know more about the course of a particular condition and the results of various treatments than they do.

If you obtain information in this manner, keep track of what information comes from research and what comes from the experience of a few people.

Please keep in mind that experience from people you know is called "anecdotal." Anecdotal information should be used cautiously. It is not wise to rely on anecdotal information as you would information which results from rigorous scientific research.


Several federal agencies offer free, comprehensive treatment guidelines about a variety of illnesses.

  • National Library of Medicine, MedlinePlus Health Information, searchable health information. offsite link.
  • National Health Information Service, a health information referral service that refers consumers to over 1,000 organizations that provide medical offsite link. 800.336.4797.
  • Public Health Services Agency For Healthcare Research and Quality (formerly the Agency for Health Care Policy and Research): click on Evidence Based Reports: provides science based information on common, costly, medical conditions and new health care technologies. offsite link.
  • The National Network of Libraries of Medicine: click on "health information." A government site dedicated to making the world's biomedical information available throughout the U.S. offsite link.

Medical Journals And Other Publications

You can locate medical journals and other publications on the internet as well as obtain them at your local library. If your local library doesn't have the publication, you can locate a medical library open to the public by calling the National Network of Libraries of Medicine at 800.338.7657.

In many libraries, the research librarians will do a computer search of medical databases for your condition or direct you to appropriate journals. In some libraries they will even print out the articles for you (for a fee).

If the information in a journal article is too complicated to understand, photocopy it and take it to your doctor. Ask him to explain it to you in words that a lay person can understand.


As with any research you do, consider the credentials of the source including the education and experience of the author(s) as well as whether the information is independent or biased toward a drug manufacturer or manufacturers.

The Physicians Desk Reference (the "PDR") and similar compendiums contain extensive information about drugs. However, if you choose to look in the PDR, please bear in mind that according to Dr. Jay Cohen, author of OVERDOSE, generally the information in the PDR comes directly from the pharmaceutical company that manufactures the drug. As of this writing, the companies are not required to report clinical trials that don't come out the way the company wants.

Assistance: Volunteers and Professionals

If you would prefer not to do the research yourself, ask a friend or family member -- or ask a research professional to help. To learn about medical research services, click here.

The Internet (including preferred sites and sites to avoid)

Preferred sitse:

A sampling of some respected sites from which you can learn about drugs, and their alternatives, are (in alphabetical order):

  • offsite link - For drugs for a limited number of conditions, the site includes comparisons of the effectiveness and safety of drugs based on evidence from people who have used the drugs, all clinical studies done by universities, drug companies and others. Since the site also includes a price comparison, it helps answer the question: If I have to pay more for a drug compared to another drug, is it worth it? The information is based on reports from the Drug Effectiveness Review Project based at the Oregon Health and Sciences University in Portland. The full reports can be read at: offsite link
  • offsite link or offsite link - A service of Consumer Reports includes comparisons of the effectiveness of drugs for a limited number of conditions as well as various medical treatments. Cost in 2005 is $4.95 a month or $19 for a year subscription. The information is based on the same source as the above mentioned AARP site.
  • offsite link - Has a Health Drug Interaction Checker
  • offsite link - Describes side effects, after requiring that you print and mail a nondisclosure agreement.
  • offsite link - Includes information about drugs and side effects, as well as help in identifying pills. It also links to support groups by medication type. Users can ask questions about side effects online.
  • offsite link - In addition to information on drugs, this site from ExpressScripts (a pharmacy benefit manager) includes vitamins and herbs. It also has a feature called "Compare Drugs" that helps you decide between drugs.
  • offsite link, a site of the Food and Drug Administration (the "FDA"). Also see, offsite link - the FDA web site which includes consumer information sheets, labeling and other drug information, as well as up-to-date medication guides. Click on Drugs@FDA
  • offsite link - the Institute for Safe Medication Practices
  • offsite link --Information about various drugs, vitamins and supplements from The Mayo Clinic
  • offsite link - The site allows for a search for drugs by the use for which they are intended., such as lowering blood sugar.
  • offsite link - PHRMA (The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America) has an online database designed to include summary results of most of its members studies completed after October 1, 2002, including those that were not published in medical journals. The studies are reported offsite link
  • offsite link - Contains a free list of drug alternatives
  • offsite link - Has information on drug side effects, drug interactions, dosage and precautions as well as descriptions of the effects of the drugs. It also contains a pill identifier and a medical dictionary. 
  • offsite link - From the American Society of Health System Pharmacists, the site includes a medication safety check list. It includes information on side effects, what to do if you miss a dose, and any dietary considerations. It also includes information about what medications include gluten.
  • offsite link - Site has a searchable database of drugs with user reviews of medication effectiveness and side effects. 
  • offsite link - Contains an "interaction checker" that allows you to determine if the prescription drugs you are taking could interact with each other.

You can also go to a search engine like offsite link or offsite link and type in the name of a drug. 

If you have allergies or have had a bad reaction to a particular compound, you can also type in the name and obtain information about drugs to avoid. For example, by using this method, SZ learned that she should not take Paxil because of her soy allergy.

CAUTION: Be skeptical about any information you receive from the Internet. Track down the source and evaluate it for yourself, or have someone with medical knowledge of your condition help you assess it. Always consider the reliability of the source and any possible biases. Read the next section on Internet Sites To Avoid before beginning your research.

Internet Sites To Avoid

Steer clear of any company or site that offers amazing new cures, or that makes claims that they can't substantiate. To avoid getting suckered, if you come across a new cure that interests you, in addition to speaking with your doctor, check to see if there is information about it on offsite link 
Also check:National Council Against Fraud at offsite link.

A few words about sites sponsored by pharmaceutical companies

If you look at the information on drug company sites, keep in mind that the company's business is to sell drugs. Keep in mind the conflict of interest.

According to Marcia Angell, MD, former editor of the New England Journal Of Medicine, "a company is exactly the wrong place to go for critical, impartial information about a product it sells."

Drug manufacturers are limited by what the FDA allows them to say and a basic desire to promote their drugs.

NOTE: When you find information your doctor didn't discuss, take a copy of what you have learned to him or her and discuss it.

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