Setting the Record Straight About Potential Grapefruit Juice and Drug Interactions
Charting the future of public relations
Holmes Report

Setting the Record Straight About Potential Grapefruit Juice and Drug Interactions

In the late 1980s, scientists discovered that a substance in grapefruit juice interferes with certain prescription drugs, causing more than the prescribed dosage to be absorbed in the bloodstream.

Paul Holmes

In the late 1980s, scientists discovered that a substance in grapefruit juice interferes with certain prescription drugs, causing more than the prescribed dosage to be absorbed in the bloodstream. Throughout the 1990s, this phenomenon captured the attention of the science community, and then proliferated in the mainstream media following a published Mayo Clinic report in 2000.
The Florida grapefruit growers were already faced with sagging sales when national headlines began warning that grapefruit juice mixed with medications is dangerous. The inaccurate and negative publicity, in part, contributed to all-time low sales of grapefruit juice. In 2001, Golin/Harris presented an extensive media audit on the issue to a new FDOC leadership team, triggering proactive action on the issue.
To establish communications objectives and strategies, G/H and FDOC conducted the following research:
An exhaustive media audit analyzed the depth of coverage, reporting patterns and accuracies. Results showed that coverage was in fact inaccurate and sensational, with broad false claims e.g., “All drugs interact with grapefruit juice…”
A survey of pharmacists and doctors found that nearly 2 of 3 pharmacists have seen an increase in patient inquiries about grapefruit juice interactions, and the majority felt they didn’t have enough information.
A consumer survey looked at 1,400+ households that had stopped buying grapefruit juice in the past year. The lead reason cited by respondents for buying less grapefruit juice was a “concern about taking grapefruit juice with medication.”
The public relations campaign set out to dispel the myths surrounding grapefruit juice-drug interactions, and set the record straight with key audiences; to proactively educate key influencer audiences—healthcare professionals and select media—to help dissuade inaccurate communications to consumers; and to halt inaccurate media reports and provide the facts on the issue.
Healthcare professionals (HCPs) -- pharmacists and general practitioner physicians—were the primary target, with an emphasis on pharmacists since patients consider them the most respected, credible drug information consultants. Drug database companies were targeted because they supply drug-labeling information  The program also targeted media reporters that either historically reported on this topic, currently cover a pharmacy/drug “beat,” or just released a new report on the topic.
The cornerstone of G/H’s strategy was leveraging credible scientific support. The team organized a small scientific resource team with a key third-party expert, in addition to FDOC’s own scientific research department. David J. Greenblatt, M.D., of Tufts University School of Medicine, who published the most recent and accurate grapefruit juice-drug interaction article in the Journal of Clinical Psychopharmacology, became the lead expert, and his article was the team’s prized resource tool.
In working with this team, G/H established its key messages—“the facts”—with the number one message being: While some prescription medications may interact with grapefruit juice, MOST do not. 
Other key messages included:
Patients should consult with their pharmacist or doctor if they have any questions about their prescription medication(s).
No evidence proves that grapefruit juice and over-the-counter medications interact.
For patients who are prescribed a medication that interacts with grapefruit juice, there generally are non-interacting, alternative medications that should provide the same therapeutic effect with no need to avoid grapefruit juice.
 To lay the foundation with influencers, the PR team had to educate key influencers leveraging Dr. Greenblatt’s expertise and chose to align itself with the pharmacists’ top industry organization, the American Pharmaceutical Association (APhA).
G/H consulted FDOC to avoid proactively using the mass media to clarify the facts due to the complexity of the issue, the ability to lose message control, and lack of new research to keep the news focused.
Media strategies included proactive outreach to a short list of priority, targeted media that periodically raise the issue; and daily monitoring all media and immediately responding to misreports—dubbed the “Truth Squad” process.
The team conducted mass mailing of 240,000 information kits to 150,000 pharmacists and 90,000 physicians, in addition to “pharmacy headquarters” at the top 35 retail pharmacy chains. The kit included a letter from FDOC, Dr. Greenblatt’s article, and a patient-HCP Q&A. In addition, a CD-Rom video with Dr. Greenblatt demonstrating the interaction mechanism was inserted in 72,000 priority pharmacists’ kits.
It also established strong FDOC presence at the APhA conference in March 2002, including an exhibit; a sponsored educational session presented by Dr. Greenblatt; and an advertorial in the February issue of Pharmacy Today, the leading APhA publication.
And the team conducted two face-to-face meetings with leading database companies, First Databank and Gold Standard Multimedia, to request they review the current accuracy of their grapefruit juice warning labels. 
 On the media relations front, G/H distributed highly-targeted letters to “beat media” and conducted conference calls; distributed information kits to trade publications for pharmacists and doctors; and conducted face-to-face meetings with priority media targets: Joe and Teresa Graedon, authors of the syndicated column, The People’s Pharmacy, who are responsible for over 350 newspaper reports on grapefruit juice and drug interactions; and Suzy Cohen, author of the syndicated column, Dear Pharmacist, with an 18+ million readership.
 The team also distributed a radio news release with Dr. Greenblatt that aired exclusively on the Radio Health Journal program, reaching highly targeted health-conscious consumers
The “Truth Squad” responded to 100 percent of new inaccurate media reports, which surfaced bi-weekly on average, targeting reporters and their sources.
These efforts reached 100 percent of practicing pharmacists, and secured APhA’s ongoing support FDOC’s agenda. Trade outreach generated six articles in leading pharmacist and physician publications, delivering 100 percent of our key messages, with 290,000+ media impressions.
The APhA education session with Dr. Greenblatt achieved the highest session attendance at the annual conference. Twenty-two pharmacy schools and retail chains requested our CD-Rom video for presentation purposes.
Six of the leading pharmacy chains, including Publix and Albertsons, distributed our kits chain-wide, reaching 1,810 pharmacists.
First Databank began re-examining warnings for 65 drugs carrying grapefruit juice alerts in its database.
 G/H successfully halted a false FOX health story circulating on its feed to 209 affiliates that falsely claimed grapefruit juice-drug interactions are deadly.
The Graedons revised their “Grapefruit Guide to Interactions” brochure delivering 100 percent of the industry’s key messages and wrote an accurate article. The PR effort also realized a 90 percent reduction in their number of annual grapefruit articles.
Suzy Cohen wrote a favorable Dear Pharmacist column, which appeared in eight newspapers nationwide, totaling 7.7 million media impressions.
Prevention magazine published an excerpt of the Truth Squad letter generating 11+ million impressions.
Radio Health Journal ANR positively reached 4.1 million consumers.
View Style:

Load 3 More
comments powered by Disqus