Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Wonders of Modern Medicine?
I was watching television this evening when one of those commercials comes on. You know the ones -- a drug is being advertised which is billed as the cure-all to whatever ails you, no matter how ridiculously minor. By now, you know the formula these commercials use; see unbelievably well-preserved Baby-Boomers (these drugs are always targeted at Baby-Boomers, who believe they have a right to live forever without anything resembling a physical defect or inconvenience) enjoying some rigorous outdoor activities (they seem to enjoy rock climbing, mountain biking and deep-sea diving the most), while a woman with a voice that reminds you slightly of Adolf Eichmann -- only you picture her in lingerie-- regales you with a 10-second recitation on the problem the drug is supposed to treat, and then spends the next 50 seconds of the commercial listing all the side-effects and dangers associated with this panacea.

You really have to listen to these things to get the gist of what's being sold. In 99-out-of-100 cases (I would guess) you are being sold a silver bullet for a specific problem, which is usually something not exactly life-threatening, but which is severe enough to affect your 'quality of life' (usually this means the embarrassment of the malady prevents you from partaking of all that pharmaceutically-enhanced-Baby-Boomer life has to offer).

For obvious reasons, I shall not name the drug in question, but we shall refer to it as 'Superdrug!', which is supposed to be a godsend to those who suffer from what used to be called 'the heartbreak of psoriasis'. While Superdrug! will, indeed, keep your skin from swelling and flaking in the most hideous and disturbing way, it comes with the following side-effects:

*You might develop tuberculosis
*You might put yourself at a higher risk for lymphomas and autoimmune disorders, like Lupus.
*Increased bleeding (put all those sharp objects away!)
*Depressed immune system making you vulnerable to other infections
*Lowered T-cell counts (T-cells help you fight infections)
*Quote: "Serious, and sometimes fatal infections may occur during treatment with Superdrug!"
*Contact your doctor right away if you: cough, sneeze, have shortness of breath, or fatigue.

Then comes the laundry list of disclaimers:

Don't take it if you have an allergy to *the scientific name of the drug in question* (Like, Duuuuhhhh!), or if you are also being treated with *another drug that does the same thing*.

Before using Superdrug!, tell your doctor if you are allergic to any drugs whatsoever, or if you have:

*an active or recent infection (what sort of infection is not specified, so a cancker sore presumably qualifies)
*a history of tuberculosis
*hepatitis B
*congestive heart failure (the phrase 'may cause new, or worsening heart failure' was used in the commercial)
*an allergy to latex rubber
*a disease that affects the nerves or muscles, such as multiple sclerosis, myasthenia gravis, Guillain-Barre syndrome
*if you are scheduled to have major surgery or receive any vaccines.
*Superdrug! is not expected to be harmful to an unborn baby. Tell your doctor if you are pregnant or plan to become pregnant during treatment.
*Your name may need to be listed on a Superdrug! pregnancy registry when you start using this medication.It is not known whether Superdrug! passes into breast milk. Do not use this medicine without first talking to your doctor if you are breast-feeding a baby.
*Using Superdrug! may increase your risk of certain types of cancer, such as breast, colon, prostate, or lung cancer, lymphoma (cancer of the lymph nodes), or melanoma. This risk may be greater in children and young adults. You may also develop an autoimmune disorder such as a lupus-like syndrome.

Of course, while Sexy-Nazi-Voiceover-Woman was telling you all of these things, our intrepid commercial Baby Boomers scaled Mt. Everest, played rugby, attended a sculpture symposium, and took up Zen Archery, giving you the impression that Superdrug! literally changed their lives for the better.

You have to start to wonder just what the hell people are putting into their bodies. And then, you have to start to wonder just what kind of mentality one must have in order to believe that swapping psoriasis for possible heart failure or tuberculosis is a risk worth taking, and which makes plunking down a couple of hundred bucks for a supply of Superdrug! seem like an awesome deal (well, pretty soon most of our extremely-active-better-than-average-looking commercial Baby-Boomers won't have to actually pay that couple of hundred bucks, so who cares?).

What really strikes me as ridiculous about this sort of thing is that somehow we're allowed to proscribe a drug which purports to cure something, but which then leaves a score or more of other potential problems in it's wake, and we still call this 'medicine'. From my own experience with prescription drugs, it seems as if very often there is a mentality at work which says 'take the pills -- I have other patients to spend 10 seconds with', or 'solving your problem might require I make an effort, be honest with you, or give you a practical solution -- take this pill instead.'

It's a sad commentary on modern society that people will shell out enormous amounts of money for Superdrug! and all the rest of these new pharmaceuticals. With most of the ones being advertised these days, it seems the cure is often much worse than the disease.

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