New York: While bone drugs have gotten a bad rap in the media recently, experts hope mounting evidence of benefits may convince patients not to shun the medicines.This month, Australian researchers published the latest report to hint that elderly women who take bisphosphonates - as the bone drugs are known -- live longer than those who don`t get treatment.Out of every hundred women in their study, three who were not taking bone drugs died every year, compared to less than one of those who were on the drugs.Although the findings don`t prove the bone drugs actually boost longevity -- it`s possible that women on treatment are generally healthier, for instance -- they fit with earlier studies."To me, this was good news," said Dr. Ethel S. Siris, who heads the Toni Stabile Osteoporosis Center at Columbia University in New York and was not involved in the study.Examples of bone drugs are Merck`s Fosamax, Roche`s Boniva, Novartis`s Reclast, and Warner Chilcott`s Actonel.They are usually prescribed for the bone-thinning disease osteoporosis, which affects about 10 million Americans, the majority of them postmenopausal women.The disease makes the bones brittle and raises the chance of fractures, which have been linked to earlier death.Estimates from Siris` team published in January show the drugs may have staved off more than 144,000 fractures among post-menopausal American women over an eight-year period.Last year, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration warned that the medications might raise the risk of an unusual type of thigh fracture, and there have also been a few cases of bone death, or osteonecrosis, of the jaw.After Australian national television reported on that side effect in December 2007, prescription rates for bone drugs dropped sharply, leading to an estimated 130 extra fractures and 14 deaths over the following nine months, according to one study."The bad news is that overstating the levels of risk of side effects with these drugs -- which the media have been doing for some time now -- has led people to stop the drugs when they should be taking them," said Siris, who is also past president of the National Osteoporosis Foundation.
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