I don’t know how many times I’ve seen the commercial where a beaver is talking to Abe Lincoln at a bus stop about some guy in a suit not being able to sleep. Or Dr. Jarvik (or his double?) rowing in a beautiful lake while telling us how Lipitor is the greatest thing since the last few blockbuster statins.

We’re inundated by drug ads. The average TV viewer spends about 100 minutes watching drug ads for every minute spent in a doctor’s office.

We may be able to recite the beaver’s lines by heart, but most of us don’t know how to report drug side effects to the Food and Drug Administration, whose job it is to make sure medicines on the market are as safe as possible. The agency does little to educate us about Medwatch, the agency’s program for people to report side effects from their medications.

An Institute of Medicine report found that in 2004, only 21,500 of the 423,000 adverse event reports that year came directly from doctors and patients — even though there is an easy to use 1-800 number.
Drug safety activist Kim Witczak of Minneapolis, Minn. proposed a nifty idea: what if these ubiquitous drug ads included that 1-800 number? Rep Schakowsky of Illinois offered an amendment to the FDA reform bill last fall requiring this information for all drug ads. By the time the bill got to the President, it required drug companies to only include the 1-800 number on print ads, but not TV ads. Rather, the law called for FDA to study the TV ad idea.

Unlike the drug industry, we don’t want this idea to be swept under the rug. We filed a petition with the FDA to get this 1-800 number and a Web address included in TV ads.

Our goal — to collect 50,000 signatures and deliver them to the FDA. If you like Kim’s idea — reporting drug side effects should be as easy as watching a TV drug ad — sign this petition and forward it to your friends and family.
Drugs are tested on only a few people for a limited period of time. Once marketed to millions, new safety problems often emerge.The easier it is for all of us to report side effects, the earlier the FDA will be able to detect safety hazards with medications and take action.

It’s simple: if consumers are going to continue to get bombarded by drug ads, then information on where they can report side effects should be just as available. We should demand nothing less.