Fearing drugs' rare side effects, millions take their chances with osteoporosis

The very prospect of rotted jawbones and shattered thighbones—rare adverse effects from osteoporosis medications—is enough to convince millions of Americans that they are better off without the drugs. Consumption of the most commonly prescribed ones slumped dramatically from 2008–12, according to a recent report.

The very prospect of rotted jawbones and shattered thighbones—rare adverse effects from osteoporosis medications—is enough to convince millions of Americans that they are better off without the drugs. Consumption of the most commonly prescribed ones slumped dramatically from 2008–12, according to a recent report. Patients remain skittish today, prompting the American Society for Bone and Mineral Research, National Osteoporosis Foundation, and National Bone Health Alliance to issue an urgent call to more aggressively treat high-risk patients. Physicians have their work cut out for them, however. "Ninety percent of patients, when you talk to them about starting one of these drugs, won't go on," notes Paul D. Miller, MD, of the Colorado Center for Bone Research. "Ninety percent who are on the drugs want to come off. The fear factor is huge." It apparently is little reassurance to patients that only 10–40 people out of every 100,000 suffer a broken thighbone and fewer than 1 out of 100,000 experience the jawbone problem. In their haste to dodge these uncommon outcomes, Americans are making themselves vulnerable to bone fractures, mobility issues, and even physical disfigurement by shunning osteoporosis drug treatment.