Social Media Impact of the Food and Drug Administration's Drug Safety Communication Messaging About Zolpidem: Mixed-Methods Analysis

JMIR Public Health Surveill. 2018 Jan 5;4(1):e1. doi: 10.2196/publichealth.7823.


Background: The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issues drug safety communications (DSCs) to health care professionals, patients, and the public when safety issues emerge related to FDA-approved drug products. These safety messages are disseminated through social media to ensure broad uptake.

Objective: The objective of this study was to assess the social media dissemination of 2 DSCs released in 2013 for the sleep aid zolpidem.

Methods: We used the MedWatcher Social program and the DataSift historic query tool to aggregate Twitter and Facebook posts from October 1, 2012 through August 31, 2013, a period beginning approximately 3 months before the first DSC and ending 3 months after the second. Posts were categorized as (1) junk, (2) mention, and (3) adverse event (AE) based on a score between -0.2 (completely unrelated) to 1 (perfectly related). We also looked at Google Trends data and Wikipedia edits for the same time period. Google Trends search volume is scaled on a range of 0 to 100 and includes "Related queries" during the relevant time periods. An interrupted time series (ITS) analysis assessed the impact of DSCs on the counts of posts with specific mention of zolpidem-containing products. Chow tests for known structural breaks were conducted on data from Twitter, Facebook, and Google Trends. Finally, Wikipedia edits were pulled from the website's editorial history, which lists all revisions to a given page and the editor's identity.

Results: In total, 174,286 Twitter posts and 59,641 Facebook posts met entry criteria. Of those, 16.63% (28,989/174,286) of Twitter posts and 25.91% (15,453/59,641) of Facebook posts were labeled as junk and excluded. AEs and mentions represented 9.21% (16,051/174,286) and 74.16% (129,246/174,286) of Twitter posts and 5.11% (3,050/59,641) and 68.98% (41,138/59,641) of Facebook posts, respectively. Total daily counts of posts about zolpidem-containing products increased on Twitter and Facebook on the day of the first DSC; Google searches increased on the week of the first DSC. ITS analyses demonstrated variability but pointed to an increase in interest around the first DSC. Chow tests were significant (P<.0001) for both DSCs on Facebook and Twitter, but only the first DSC on Google Trends. Wikipedia edits occurred soon after each DSC release, citing news articles rather than the DSC itself and presenting content that needed subsequent revisions for accuracy.

Conclusions: Social media offers challenges and opportunities for dissemination of the DSC messages. The FDA could consider strategies for more actively disseminating DSC safety information through social media platforms, particularly when announcements require updating. The FDA may also benefit from directly contributing content to websites like Wikipedia that are frequently accessed for drug-related information.

Keywords: Facebook; Food and Drug Administration; Google Trends; Twitter; drug safety communications; epidemiology; social media; surveillance.