There’s a strange thing about how people react to the news. Of course, we all have our own experiences, but we also rely on what others tell us. So, if we think the benefits of a “thing” outweigh the costs, we are likely to buy or engage in the activity. But if we think we could lose out, we avoid or reject the “thing”. This is a problem because, if you avoid something, you never give yourself the chance to find out whether you actually lose. Think of it as being a false alarm. Put the other way round, most marketing relies on optimistic claims and often leaves you disappointed. This experience gives you the chance to update your expectations. Except, of course, not everyone is this rational. We all have our prejudices. Worse, we tend to accept advice from people who confirm we are right rather than from those who might challenge our beliefs. It’s one of those trust issues.
So how do we react when an “expert” tells us something? Well, it comes down to whether we think the experts are biased or corrupt, e.g. in the pay of the manufacturers or committed to a particular political view. If that’s the case, the fact the advice might be accurate and timely will make no difference. It will be ignored.
Risk is all about uncertainty. It’s not something you can measure easily and the problem of how we react depends on how quickly the risk might come true. Try telling a cigarette smoker there’s a risk of cancer in twenty years time. It’s all about the pleasure now and the delusion you will do something about it before the risk gets more real.
The FDA has just announced a change in the labeling for Tramadol. It has also sent out a letter to all doctors, advising a change to the way in which they write prescriptions. It seems one or two people have died as a result of taking opioid painkillers. This is difficult because the FDA will not say how many have died but, given past experience, we can assume the number is very small. The FDA tends to work on a precautionary basis and, if tens were dying, they would take the drug off the market. So why are these people dying? It comes down to overdoses – a tiny percentage of cases. It seems one or two people who were emotionally disturbed and depressed died when they took too much of the drug. Doctors are advised to discuss the use of Tramadol if you are also taking an antidepressant or tranquilizers.
Let’s assume the FDA is less in the pocket of Big Pharma than under the last Administration. That would make this advice more credible. But the reality of the warning only seems to apply to a vanishingly small number of people given the millions who use Tramadol on a regular basis. While we would never suggest you ignore an FDA announcement, you have to answer a simple question. When the benefits of this painkiller are real to you, and the risk only applies to people who are severely mentally ill, are you going to change your response? We suspect no one will take any notice of this new label.