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Drug Risks Must Be Balanced Against Benefits, Researchers

n-years) than all drugs, even Vioxx, which had a 76 per 100,000 person-years fatality rate.

* Aspirin, clozapine, Tysabri and Vioxx all had risks equal to or greater than the annual mortality risks for firefighters and law enforcement workers (about 11 per 100,000 person-years). The most risky occupation -- tree fallers -- was much higher than any drug, at 360 per 100,000 person-years.

* Rock climbing (36 deaths per 100,000 person-years) had a mortality rate about equivalent to clozapine, while climbing in the Himalayas (13,000 per 100,000 person-years) had a higher risk of death than any of the drugs studied.

* And, just as a curiosity, the researchers found that motorcyclists can potentially face annual fatality risks that are 40 times as great as passenger car travelers, while taxi drivers face three times the death risk of firefighters.

"What we found, and this isn't a huge surprise, is that there are a lot of activities that people engage in voluntarily that have associated with them risks comparable to medication risks," Cohen said. "People must be taking into account benefits for those activities."

But perhaps the illustrations highlighted in this paper will help people make those decisions more clear-headedly, he said.

"When it comes to medication, we have to be methodological and cool-headed in looking at risks, not that they should be ignored, but we need to look at them within a framework," Cohen suggested.. "We need a way of thinking about these risks rationally."


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