Social Media & Drug Safety

Social Media & Drug Safety

Social media is vast, indeed very vast, and its vastness is growing by the day. From your bathroom and kitchen to your shopping instincts, it has dwelled deep into our decision-making process. The average time an individual spends daily using social media platforms is on the rise. 

Surprisingly, it is increasingly becoming a source of global information on drug safety and the adverse effects of drugs. 

However, how much can you trust social media instincts in pharmaceutical decision-making is something questionable. 


Pharmacovigilance (PV) is a study that relates to the adverse effects of drugs – a science involving detection, assessment, understanding, and prevention of the problems or impacts related to drugs’ adverse reactions. As per the World Health Organization (WHO), “pharmacovigilance is the science and activities relating to the detection, assessment, understanding, and prevention of adverse effects or any other medicine/vaccine-related problem.”

A Drug’s Journey

Earlier, a drug, once manufactured, was considered fit for use. However, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) made the approval of a medicine/vaccine necessary before being released for use in 1995. A step so necessary! 

Any drug/medicine/vaccine now goes through comprehensive testing & trial process before getting the “approval for use” and subsequent release in the market. There are three phases to a drug’s clinical trial. Phases 1, 2, and 3 involve testing drugs on in dummy settings to check its safety, side effects, ways to administer, etc., then animals, and then a few selected individuals. Once successful through each phase, the market usage authorisation (approval for public use in the market) of the drug is applied for. With the required “approval for use” (or Emergency Use Authorisation, EUA – in emergency cases, like what happened with COVID-19 vaccines), the drugs are considered OK for use. 

*Emergency Use Authorisation is required when a drug is urgently needed for treatment of a disease/disorder, etc. 

However, the journey doesn’t end here. The usage requires continuous monitoring once out for public use. As the trials on limited candidates (animals or humans) make it difficult to understand all types of adverse drug reactions (ADRs) a drug may pose. The trials’ environment does not even consider the different settings, age groups, people, or people with comorbidities, a drug would be exposed to. Hence, the real-world data (RWD) of the marketed medicines is very much required. Now is when pharmacovigilance comes to the fore. 

  • Studying the response through surveillance of the marketed drugs, and
  • Establishing reporting systems & analysing data reported 

are the two significant aspects of PV. It is the latter where social media carries an immense significance. 

How helpful can Social Media be?

While notwithstanding the fact that social media info cannot be blindly relied on, there are various ways in which PV can use this media to its advantage! In order to validate the same, multiple studies were conducted that conclusively stated, “Social media, along with conventional pharmacovigilance measures, can be used to detect signals associated with new black box warnings, labeling changes, or withdrawals. Several challenges remain; however, social media will be useful for signal detection of frequently mentioned drugs in specialised health care social networks and forums. Further studies are required to advance natural language processing and mine real-world data on social media.”

Social Media – a crucial PV source of RWD on ADRs

If social media is today the most widely used medium for circulation/discussion of any subject, casual or formal – why not use it for something so critical as PV & ADRs? 

  • Education

Use it for the spread of awareness of any product and the problem & audience it caters to. PV can use it to disseminate information on the product’s usage, benefits, description, required usage caution, and the known side effects. This will help the public become ‘pharma vigilant.’ Please note the data must be validated by authorized bodies. 

  • Interaction

Use it to interact with the customers, understand their feedback on the product & their problems, make the required decision & reanalyse the product if need be, and leave customers with genuine suggestions/solutions. Do keep them updated on the curative actions (for the side effects or issues reported) if any. The data collected through the process can provide significant insight into the drug response and adverse effects if any. This exercise with the consumers and healthcare professionals (HCPs) needs to be done exhaustively. Please note – a drug might work accurately on 10,000 people but might produce heavy impacts on one. Hence, every response is crucial, and each individual has a role to play in this. (The PV team handling social media channels must be vary of the responses – quick replies to the genuine ones & understanding of the fake/spam/pseudo reporting). 

While the HCPs have a major play in this area as they are the ones reporting any discrepancy or unexpected response, we, as individuals, too have tons to contribute!

As a patient on any medication or as the patient’s family/known, we must

  • Follow the medication as per the prescription
  • Visit the doctor for regular (or as prescribed) follow-ups
  • Report any adverse effects post the medication 

Our Health, Our Responsibility – Let’s be vigilant & help our medical fraternity help us!

Avani Raj Arora

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