Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Dr. Robert Califf is pushing the agency to expand its crackdown on health-related misinformation, according to an interview with The Associated Press, despite the agency’s own record of allegedly misleading Americans.
The agency’s misinformation crackdown is already underway, with the FDA making online posts, YouTube videos and Twitter threads addressing perceived medical misinformation. Califf called for the effort to be expanded, according to the AP, citing a perceived rise in health misinformation surrounding the COVID-19 virus and vaccine.
“We’re now in a 24/7 sea of information without a user guide for people out there in society,” Califf told the AP. “So this requires us to change the way we communicate.”
However, the agency itself has been accused of engaging in health misinformation, including its approval of an OxyContin label suggesting the drug’s slow release formula made it less addictive, according to OxyContin manufacturer Purdue Pharma’s 2007 plea deal agreement.
“Delayed absorption, as provided by OxyContin tablets, is believed to reduce the abuse liability of a drug,” the FDA-approved label read, according to the plea. The claim was prominently featured in the drug’s marketing and was touted by pharmaceutical salespeople, some of whom claimed the drug didn’t have the same “euphoria” effect of other pain killers and had less potential for abuse.
The drug claimed to provide pain relief for 12 hours, but its effects reportedly lasted only half that long in some cases, and patients suffered from narcotic withdrawal, intense cravings for the drug and cycles of agony and relief, according to a Los Angeles Times investigation.
Curtis Wright, who was involved in the approval of the drug’s label, began working for Purdue Pharma in 1998, according to his 2003 testimony in Terri Lynn Poston v. Purdue Pharma.
Despite its alleged role in the OxyContin scandal, the FDA is now focusing its attention on combating health misinformation.
“Anyone who thinks the government’s going to solve this problem alone is deluding themselves,” Califf told the AP. “We need a vast network of knowledgeable people who devote part of their day to combating misinformation.”
Google’s algorithms prioritize sources it perceives as credible, including the FDA, meaning that its articles tend to appear high up in search results about health topics such as vaccines, according to the AP. News outlets also echo the FDA’s messages to large audiences, often communicating their message into more simple and understandable language.
Califf also suggested that nearly all recent COVD-19 deaths were preventable and caused by misinformation steering people away from vaccines and treatments.
“Almost no one should be dying of COVID in the U.S. today,” Califf told AP, noting the government’s distribution of free vaccines and antiviral medications. “People who are denying themselves that opportunity are dying because they’re misinformed.”
Many health officials have backpedaled on their enthusiasm for the COVID-19 vaccine’s effectiveness or have endorsed positions once considered misinformation.
Dr. Anthony Fauci recently acknowledged that the COVID-19 vaccine never had a realistic chance of getting the virus under control. Former COVID-19 response coordinator Deborah Birx said the vaccines were “overplayed” and did not did not protect against COVID-19 infection, and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said in August that the vaccine couldn’t stop the transmission of the virus.
Governmental leaders have acknowledged on numerous other occasions that ideas they once labeled COVID-19 misinformation were actually true.