Asleep at the Wheel of Truth

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  • 02/07/2006

Dr. Bob Goldberg pulls no punches in response to Stephanie Saul’s article (“Record Sales of Sleeping Pills Are Causing Worries”) in today’s edition of the New York Times …

Stephanie Saul fits the mold of NY Times reporting on the drug industry like a glove: Big bad companies market lifestyle meds with horrible side effects when simple changes in how we live could easily take care of the problem. Instead of marketing erectile dysfunction drugs, the drug companies are pushing sleeping pills of all things.

Here’s the crux of her article, “… some experts worry that the drugs are being oversubscribed without enough regard to known, if rare, side effects or the implications of long-term use. And they fear doctors may be ignoring other conditions, like depression, that might be the cause of sleeplessness.”

Rare side effects and implications of long-term use? What are the side effects? Sleepiness? That is fairly standard and well known. How do we know they are being over “subscribed?” Saul gives us no benchmark since there is nothing in the article about the extent of sleeping disorders in the United States. Along those line, her claim that experts fear doctors are ignoring related conditions flies in the face of a campaign to make doctors aware that sleep disorders are a component of other illnesses. If she had done a little research, just five minutes of Googling, she could have found that out.

But she doesn’t give us context because Saul wants us to believe sleeplessness was a problem invented by drug companies to sell a useless product. Has she read anything about the increased risk for stroke and sleep apnea? What about the studies reporting up to 80 percent of people on dialysis suffer from insomnia? The fact that most primary care doctors have failed to treat sleeping disorders among people suffering from mental illness, arthritis and fibromyalgia?

A good article would have provided context, history, risks and benefits. As it stands, it is another example of the rotting standards of medical journalism that dwells on the fear factor.


Center for Medicine in the Public Interest is a nonprofit, non-partisan organization promoting innovative solutions that advance medical progress, reduce health disparities, extend life and make health care more affordable, preventive and patient-centered. CMPI also provides the public, policymakers and the media a reliable source of independent scientific analysis on issues ranging from personalized medicine, food and drug safety, health care reform and comparative effectiveness.

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