Heartburn drug illuminates growing mistrust of pharmaceuticals

This week, a study reported that heartburn medications can exacerbate existing conditions instead of alleviating them. The study, which said that Prilosec and similar drugs can cause more -- and more painful -- heartburn, reminded me of a realization made at a marketing focus group. The goal of the session was to review taglines for a local teaching hospital and medical center, but our disparate group was unable to come to even the most minor consensus. The group's designers had done their job too well and we represented both ends of every conceivable opinion spectrum.

We were, however, united in one thing: our universal, even hostile, mistrust of pharmaceutical companies. And the way this study was designed is destined to reinforce that mistrust. Copenhagen University scientists recruited 120 healthy adults with no stomach problems and put half of them on a proton pump inhibitor (PPI) drug, and half on a placebo. The study participants took the pills daily for three months. At the end of the period, the researchers stopped the treatment and measured heartburn, acid reflux and indigestion. Of the group with the PPIs, 44 percent had developed symptoms of some stomach problem, compared to nine percent of the placebo group; a very significant outcome.