July 4, 2012
Article by Global Pre-Meds
Hospital doctor shadowing & global health experience programs.
The American Food and Drugs Administration is the agency which oversees the safety of food and drugs for sale or otherwise available to the American public and ultimately, especially in the case of drugs, to the world. They have the remit of monitoring a huge slice of the annual turnover of many businesses in the USA; at the last estimate, this came to a staggering $1 trillion. This is made up of various different areas, perhaps more than you would expect, as the FDA not only looks after and into the areas of food and drugs but also cosmetics, vitamins and also the safety and efficacy of machinery and equipment used in the delivery of diagnostic and therapeutic procedures in the field of medicine. Perhaps the most unusual item to come under the aegis of the FDA and for which a new category was instigated is the medical maggot, the only living thing currently on the list. Medical maggots are used extensively in wound cleaning and are a very large and growing industry.
Over the counter and prescription drugs are a huge business worldwide and of course drug companies take their responsibilities very seriously, but the FDA keep a very close eye on standards nonetheless. Their interest does not stop when a drug is past the testing stage. The conditions under which the drug is manufactured, the packaging, any warnings on the labels or instructions to physician or to the person at point of use are all monitored closely by the FDA. It is inappropriate that drugs should be sold to minors and so retailers are randomly checked by agents of the FDA to make sure that federal and local laws are adhered to; this is not a simple task and if a member of the public sees what they think may be an infringement, they are encouraged to let the FDA or local police know.
When it comes to the testing of drugs, the FDA is particularly vigilant, and the move of a drug’s status from prescription only (which is the level at which any new drug enters the marketplace) to over the counter is monitored with particular care, following various scandals involving generic drugs in the eighties. Generic drugs are generally cheaper versions of named medicines and it is a hotly contested market. Compared to some other countries, in particular the UK and parts of Europe, the over the counter market in the USA is very wide, including as it does some antibiotics and other medicines which elsewhere are available on prescription only.
Drugs do not escape the attention of the Food and Drug Administration when they are on the market or at the disposal of doctors. Careful records are kept of any adverse reactions or anecdotal evidence and the safety is reconsidered constantly. The same applies to anything used in the medical field and even vitamins are constantly monitored, as are the claims made by companies about the properties of the drugs they sell – the days of the snake oil salesman are over!