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October 01, 2008 (Vol. 28, No. 17)

FDA Adverse Events Database

  • Mountain of information
  • Ridiculous hyperlinks
Side effects of medications are big news when they occur, and tracking them is no small task, as will be discovered quickly at the FDA Adverse Events Database. Just for the seven-year period from 2000 to 2007, over 17,000,000 records were compiled of adverse events reported by physicians, drug companies, and consumers. Access to this data is available via a simple search engine interface that allows users to search by drug name, reaction, indication, or outcome. For example, a search for side effects for Zyrtec brought up 549 pages of information with over 2,700 cases. A very unfortunate design feature of the site, though, will quickly temper excitement over this information access. Returned records are hyperlinked not to detailed information about each case. Instead, hyperlinks connect to a Wikipedia (!?!) record and nothing else, rendering the information almost completely useless for anyone except high school kids writing science reports. I’ve seen some pretty dumb things to do with scientific information, but this one has to be the cream of a very pathetic crop.
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