Correlation versus causation? Pharmacovigilance of the analgesic flupirtine exemplifies the need for refined spontaneous adr reporting
Annually, adverse drug reactions result in more than 2,000,000 hospitalizations and rank among the top 10 causes of death in the United States. Consequently, there is a need to continuously monitor and to improve the safety assessment of marketed drugs. Nonetheless, pharmacovigilance practice frequently lacks causality assessment. Here, we report the case of flupirtine, a centrally acting non-opioid analgesic. We re-evaluated the plausibility and causality of 226 unselected, spontaneously reported hepatobiliary adverse drug reactions according to the adapted Bradford-Hill criteria, CIOMS score and WHO-UMC scales. Thorough re-evaluation showed that only about 20% of the reported cases were probable or likely for flupirtine treatment, suggesting an incidence of flupirtine-related liver injury of 1:100,000 when estimated prescription data are considered, or 0.8 in 10,000 on the basis of all 226 reported adverse drug reactions. Neither daily or cumulative dose nor duration of treatment correlated with markers of liver injury. In the majority of cases (151/226), an average of 3 co-medications with drugs known for their liver liability was observed that may well be causative for adverse drug reactions, but were reported under a suspected flupirtine ADR. Our study highlights the need to improve the quality and standards of ADR reporting. This should be done with utmost care taking into account contributing factors such as concomitant medications including over-the-counter drugs, the medical history and current health conditions, in order to avoid unjustified flagging and drug warnings that may erroneously cause uncertainty among healthcare professionals and patients, and may eventually lead to unjustified safety signals of useful drugs with a reasonable risk to benefit ratio.