When Misleading Ads Harm People

My patient Brian is a gay man who has been taking the medication Truvada to protect him from HIV infection. Recently I saw him in the office and he said he saw an ad on Facebook suggesting this medication causes bone and kidney problems, so he stopped it.

When advertisers mislead people to make a buck, that’s one thing. When misleading ads lead to people being hurt or killed, that’s another.

Brian is at increased risk of HIV infection due to his lifestyle. He is a lovely, gentle man who is a talented musician. Whether you agree with his choices or not, he does NOT deserve to contract a deadly disease if it can be prevented. And Truvada reduces the risk of HIV infection by 99%.

The ads in question are being run by legal firms who, it seems, are attempting to organize class-action lawsuits against the company that makes Truvada. These misleading ads claim the medication is dangerous and imply taking it isn’t worth the risk. When patients without medical knowledge, like Brian, see these ads online they become concerned and sometimes choose to stop their medication.

All medications have risks. Doctors talk with patients and weigh these risks against the proven benefits of the medications. Often doctors run periodic tests to monitor for problems stemming from use of medications. Other medications can cause kidney problems (like blood pressure medications and NSAIDs like Advil) or bone problems (like some contraceptives and steroids used for severe arthritis) but we still use them.

Stopping blood pressure medication because some lots of generic medication have been found contaminated is one thing. High blood pressure is rarely dangerous over the short term – once it’s confirmed your pills aren’t from one of the affected lots you can restart them. However, stopping medication to prevent infection from HIV can be deadly over a short period of time, if one is exposed during that unprotected window.

Almost 40,000 new cases of HIV infection happen every year. Over 1 million Americans are living with HIV, and approximately 15% of these people don’t know they are infected. Gay and bisexual men, sex workers and IV drug users are at highest risk and most likely to benefit from treatment with Truvada.

If you are taking a medication, ANY medication, and you see something reported on TV or radio that concerns you, talk to your doctor before stopping your medication. Your physician should be able to address your concerns and, if not, you can decide together on a course of treatment that makes you comfortable and continues to meet your health goals.

It’s been said before, but bears repeating. Don’t believe everything you see or hear online.

QUESTION: How do you judge when you see concerning information online? How do you know what to believe?

Share