As lawsuits move through the courts about the role of pain-reliever Vioxx in heart attacks, the FDA is considering whether the Internet can be used to see if drugs are prescribed safely.
According to this weeks Federal Register, the FDA is planning to study whether a class of migraine drugs known as triptans are being prescribed appropriately.
These drugs, which include sumatriptan (Imitrex), rizatriptan (Maxalt) and naratriptan (Amerge), have been prescribed to millions of Americans.
Though very effective at reducing pain, they are not supposed to be prescribed for patients with vascular disease because they could raise those patients chances of having a heart attack or stroke.
By targeting people looking for information about headaches online, the FDA hopes to find out how often triptans are prescribed to patients outside of recommended safety guidelines.
The FDA wants to find out if Internet surveys are less expensive and more accurate than current methods.
These methods include surveys of subpopulations in health maintenance organizations and compiling complaints that are spontaneously reported to the agency.
Solicited people will be asked to complete a questionnaire online. This will collect information about their health, demographics, as well as how and how often they take triptans.
To check that the information supplied is accurate, the FDA will ask a subset of those surveyed for their medical records.