I found this in a recent USA Today story:

When it comes to prescription drugs, the Public Citizen Health Research Group advises consumers to follow the Seven-Year Rule: Unless there is no effective alternative, avoid taking any medication that hasn’t been on the market at least seven years.

“To take a drug in the first seven years it’s on the market is really to be a participant in an experiment,” says Sidney Wolfe, director of the Washington, D.C.-based consumer advocacy organization.

Drugs are tested in relatively few people before entering the market, so some serious side effects might not be noticed until they are widely prescribed.

In a 2002 study, Wolfe and his co-authors found that one of five prescription drugs require stronger label warnings or get pulled from the market because of serious side effects. In his study, half of the black-box warnings were added less than seven years after the drug entered the market.

If an equally effective drug with a longer track record is available, “why take the chance” of going with the newer competitor?

This advice sort of reminds me of advice I’ve often received about other consumer products, especially technically complex products like cars, computers, etc.

Who hasn’t bought the first model of one of these and later regretted it? The kinks haven’t been worked out and your model is a lemon or the rear-window defogger doesn’t work. The worst is when a new, improved model comes out the next year — like when BMW’s sound system became compatible with iPod in all 3 Series AFTER my model year!

Of course, I could have purchased a Chrysler and maybe gotten that feature. But the BMW 3 Series was hot! I had to have it. For 15 minutes I basked in the glory of it as passers-by would ask me about it or look inside while it was parked.

Now, everybody has a 3 Series! Common as dirt where I live. And mine is getting old. I need the next new thing!

That’s what the USA Today article, “Newest drugs not always the best,” is all about: consumers and even physicians are “tricked” into buying into the belief that “newer is better” when it comes to prescription drugs.

“Newer is Better” is Marketing 101. Many ads focus on that theme; even drug ads. Ads for Crestor come to mind, in which “newer” is replaced by “lower” as in “lower is better.”

Is newer (or lower) better? Can you never be too thin or too rich? Is it necessary for a drug to be on the market for seven years before it is safe to use? Nothing changes about the drug — there’s no new model (unless you consider combination drugs like Vytorin new models). You just get a chance to see if it has fatal side effects without being part of the experiment.

But seven years! C’mon Sidney! You just don’t like these new fangled things, do you? I bet you don’t drive a 3 Series!

I don’t go around bragging about my Pravachol the way I did about my BMW. I feel that Pravachol is “old” and I should be on the newer stuff like Crestor or Caduet or Vytorin. Then I would have some bragging rights when I sit down to one of those chicken lunches at the many pharmaceutical industry conferences I attend.

“Yeah, I’m on Vytorin! Great stuff. Ask your doctor about it.” (Whoops! I forgot. Patients don’t ask their doctors about brands — see “Advertisers Don’t Know How DTC Works. Say wha?“)

I guess my doctor doesn’t feel that Pravachol is bad just because it is old. Maybe he’s a consultant for BMS and prescribes Pravachol as a favor to BMS. He certainly is not being “tricked” by Pravachol ads — when was the last time you saw one of those?

Or maybe he just thinks that Pravachol is working for me, so why change horses in midstream?

But you know what bugs me? Maybe he’s been “tricked” by the Vytorin or Crestor ads and is secretly prescribing these new and “better” drugs for his other patients! That bastard!