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Bone-Strengthening Drugs May Be Overprescribed
Date:1/18/2008

Doctors suggest drug makers exaggerate benefits for women who do not have osteoporosis

FRIDAY, Jan. 18 (HealthDay News) -- Drug companies exaggerate the benefits and downplay the risks of prescribing bone-strengthening drugs for women whose bones are weakened but who do not have osteoporosis, a new report claims.

Drugs such as raloxifene, alendronate and risedronate do reduce the risk of fractures of women with osteoporosis, according to the article in the Jan. 19 issue of BMJ.

"But what they [drug makers] do is to argue that the effect of treating pre-osteoporosis [osteopenia] and osteoporosis is similar," explained study co-author Dr. Pablo Alonso-Coello, a family practitioner at Hospital Sant-Pau in Barcelona. However, many women with osteopenia have such a low risk of fractures that drug treatment would provide almost no benefit, he noted.

"This move to treat pre-osteoporosis raises serious questions about the benefit-risk relationship for low-risk individuals and about the costs of medicalizing and potentially medicating an enormous group of healthy people," the report said. Osteopenia is thought to affect almost half of older women, the study noted.

The study authors looked at four studies, all of which found benefits in giving osteoporosis drugs to women with osteopenia. But those reports exaggerated the benefits, often by reporting risk reduction in relative rather than absolute terms, Alonso-Coello said.

For example, the absolute risk of a woman with osteoporosis having a fracture in a given year might be 10 percent, he said. "The effect of an osteoporosis drug is to lower that risk by half, so the absolute benefit is a 5 percent reduction. But in women with pre-osteoporosis, the risk of fracture is very low, say 1 percent a year, so if you lower that by half, you go down to an 0.5 percent absolute reduction," he explained.

One study cited in the paper claimed a 75 perc
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