New poll finds erosion of consumer confidence in FDA

Several high-profile drug safety issues have eroded the public's confidence in the Food & Drug Administration in recent months, according to a national poll. At the same time, the majority of those polled want more funding and an independent review of the agency's operations. And they're ready to vote against politicians who want to cut funding for FDA safety programs.

Widespread publicity swirling around some drugs, such as COX-2 painkillers and antidepressants, has chipped away at Americans' confidence in the FDA's ability to ensure that prescription drugs are safe, according to a recent poll of 1,000 adults. Conducted on behalf of several patient and consumer organizations, including Consumers Union, the poll found that in February, 37% of those polled had "not much" confidence or "none at all" in the FDA, compared with 29% last November. The percentage that had a "great deal" of confidence fell from 21% to 14% in the latest survey.

"Interestingly, seniors who probably pay most attention to these issues have the least confidence," said pollster Celinda Lake. "Only 9% of seniors said they have a great deal of confidence in the ability of the FDA to ensure the safety of drugs."

"Every single demographic and political group has a solid majority of two-thirds who support a review," said Lake. "Much of the agenda in terms of maintaining a tough-minded FDA is very strongly bipartisan."

Americans do take the FDA's role seriously and don't want politicians shortchanging the agency at the expense of safety. The poll found that voters are willing to exercise their political muscle at the ballot box to punish Congressional candidates who favor cutting funding for the FDA's safety inspection programs. Fifty-two percent said they were very or somewhat less likely to vote for potential budget slashers, while 37% said it would make no difference to them come election time.

"There's quite a bit of intensity to that sentiment," said Lake. "Amongst every demographic and political group, we have no more than 10% who favor cutting FDA funding. In general, as people look across all these issues, they are trying to sort out what's the way to have the strongest possible FDA and what's the way to strengthen it."