How Effective Are "Proven" Drugs?

Posted on: 25 April 2008 by Gareth Hargreaves

The battle between alternative therapies and "proven" drugs is ongoing.

‘The drugs don’t work’:  Should complementary and alternative therapies be dismissed so quickly, when many commercially marketed medicines are themselves unproven?

Complementary and alternative therapies (CAMs) are usually considered by the orthodox medical profession to be ‘unproven’ in comparison to prescription drugs. Pharmaceutical products must undergo strict clinical testing to demonstrate their efficacy and safety before being brought to market. Unlike acupuncture, homeopathy and a whole range of other treatments, some going back thousands of years, these drugs have been scientifically proven to work, so we are told.

What then are we to make of the slowly emerging fact that drugs manufacturers can be selective when it comes to publishing the results of clinical trials?

Or that many proven, established commercially produced drugs are at best useless and at worst likely to cause unwanted, sometimes drastic side effects?

Take Prozac, for example – a major anti-depressant, prescribed to millions worldwide. A report published in February 2008 in a US medical journal, Initial Severity and Antidepressant Benefits: A Meta-Analysis of Data Submitted to the Food and Drug Administration, re-examines the preliminary trials done on Prozac and concludes that there is actually no evidence it works.

It is something that frustrates those who are trying to get complementary and alternative treatments accepted by the orthodox medical community. Bruce Hester is Principal Home Treatment adviser for The Arthritic Association, a UK charity dedicated to treating arthritis through natural methods.

“Whenever we hear of the withdrawal of a major drug, it’s another nail in the coffin for the idea that there is such as thing as a ‘proven’ treatment. Clearly, many ‘unproven’ treatments are actually more effective that their pharmaceutical alternatives,” says Bruce Hester.

It is not only Prozac that has hit the headlines in recent years. Romozin, used to treat type 2 diabetes, was withdrawn from the UK market in 1997 after a number of serious side effects were recorded in the US and Japan. (See

When the arthritis drug Vioxx was withdrawn in 2004, Dr Richard Horton, editor of The Lancet, accused both the US drug regulator and manufacturer Merck of "ruthless, short-sighted and irresponsible self-interest." (See

And in November 2007, drug regulators in Britain ordered the withdrawal of another arthritis drug, Prexige, after growing evidence that it was causing liver damage. (See

Bruce Hester knows how hard it is to win credibility beyond the complementary health sector for a health intervention if it is untested in clinical trials. Founded over 65 years ago, The Arthritic Association champions the work of natural health theorist and practitioner Charles de Coti-Marsh and claims his home treatment for arthritis has helped thousands of people to manage their condition without resorting to drugs or surgery.

“It is clear that by publishing only a selection of the results of clinical trials, the situation can arise where there appears to be scientific evidence where none exists,” says Hester. “This makes a mockery of the claim that orthodox medical interventions have been proven to work whereas CAMs have not.”

The Arthritic Association is a registered charity dedicated to helping relieve people from the pain of arthritis through natural methods. Founded in 1942 by Charles de Coti-Marsh, the Association continues his holistic approach to dietary management, postural management and natural supplementation.

Although his theories and techniques are recognised as a complex intervention to improve health, for many arthritis sufferers their life is made better within four months.

Initial Severity and Antidepressant Benefits: A Meta-Analysis of Data Submitted to the Food and Drug Administration, Irving Kirsch et al, PloS Medicine, 26-2-08

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