Drug Side Effects Often Underreported in Scientific Journals

Serious side effects from drugs are frequently underreported due to clinical trial data that is never formally presented in medical journals for the public and healthcare providers to see.

A team of researchers found 28 studies that had information on the amount of data on side effects in published journal articles compared to data from unpublished sources, such as clinical trial registries and data from the drug companies themselves. An average of 64% of drug side effects were missing in published articles, the researchers reported in PLOS Medicine.

For example, in one of the studies examined, reports of suicidal ideation and attempts, and other psychiatric symptoms, were higher in the unpublished data set compared to the published data for the same trials.

“There is strong evidence that substantially more information on adverse events is available from unpublished than from published data sources and that higher numbers of adverse events are reported in the unpublished than the published version of the same studies,” the authors concluded. They added that “hidden” or “missing” data prevents patients and doctors from having a full understanding of the harms a drug may possess, and as a result, overstate the benefits of a drug.

They also call for more transparency from pharmaceutical companies by asking them to release full data on side effects.


Jonathan Block

Jonathan Block

Jonathan Block is an associate editor at BioCentury, which provides news and information about the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries. Prior to joining BioCentury in 2019, Jonathan worked for MedShadow as content editor. He has been an editor and writer for multiple pharmaceutical, health and medical publications, including The Pink Sheet, Modern Healthcare, Health Plan Week and Psychiatry Advisor. He holds a BA from Tufts University and is earning an MPH with a focus on health policy from the CUNY Graduate School of Public Health & Health Policy.


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