Oct 1, 2009

Swallowing Big Pharma's Pills as Prescribed

The pharmaceutical industry is akin to a spouse who makes good money, provides a lot of necessities, but who has a psychotic side that causes him, now and then, to try to kill you. But, because of the great toys he brings home, the kids love him, and because of the new cars and super house, you stay with him.

Lately, the psychotic side of Big Pharma has dominated. It’s time for Americans to begin their divorce.

You’d think that in light of the inane commercials that warn of potential side effects from their pills, some of which are potentially fatal, or can bring some catastrophic health consequences, America would wake up and say “No way! I simply will not risk that. I’ll not flip that coin!”

About a year ago, I had a doctor prescribe Levaquin for a persistent sinus infection. Levaquin is used to treat bacterial infections of the skin, sinuses, kidneys, bladder, or prostate. It is also used to treat bacterial infections that cause bronchitis or pneumonia, and is even used to treat people who have been exposed to anthrax. I filled the prescription, then, as an afterthought, decided to do some research. The potential harm that could hit me was stunning!

Before taking Levaquin, I’m supposed to tell my doctor if I had any kidney or liver disease, myasthenia gravis, joint problems, seizures or epilepsy, diabetes, or low levels of potassium in my blood (like I carry that information around in my wallet). In addition, I’m to avoid taking antacids, or vitamin or mineral supplements (there is a laundry list of other things). I am warned that taking Levaquin can make my skin more sensitive to sunlight, so I should avoid sunlight, sun lamps or tanning beds. (Interesting that my doctor didn't tell me any of those things.)

Ah, but then came the kicker, the one that convinced me that Big Pharma was willing to play the odds, bet on the statistics, and use me as a blue chip in their high stakes game of pill-poker. A warning was given that Levaquin might cause swelling or tearing of a tendon (the fiber that connects bones to muscles in the body), especially in the Achilles' tendon of the heel. (There are now scores of lawsuits pending and being filed over this drug.) These effects may be more likely to occur if you are over 60, if you take an oral steroid medication, or if you have had a kidney, heart, or lung transplant. My doctor was willing to be a pawn in the pushing of this pill on an unsuspecting 67 year old heart patient (who, fortunately, did get curious).

A few months ago, after a stint in the hospital, my heart doctor prescribed a medication that I’d never used. I looked it up. The potential side effects for this medication was worse than Levaquin. As I told my GP, “I wouldn’t take those pills if you paid me $20.00 a pill.” There was simply no way I would be willing to expose myself to potential side effects that are catastrophic. Big Pharma and my doctor may be willing for me to take that risk, but I'm not willing.

Most Americans are ignorant as to the nature of the beast we call “Big Pharma.” This industry has developed a marketing scheme that is now embedded into the psyche of America. It has recruited a segment of society as sales persons who are, in the minds of most of the public, especially the elderly, highly trustworthy. They don’t call them salesmen, though. They call them “doctors.”

In a piece in the Wall Street Journal on June 24, 2002, a very interesting bit of news was in the paper. It said that “There is little dispute that drug makers spend big money–more than 16 billion in 2001, according to one estimate–cultivating physicians and medical students.” That is a staggering amount of money. This “cultivation,” or imprinting upon the psyche of the doctors, comes in many forms. It is massive, sophisticated advertising to people whose minds have already been imprinted with the notion that treatment of disease starts with a pill. The pharmaceutical industry begins this imprinting in medical school and reinforces it throughout the professional life of the doctor. (An argument can be made that the imprinting actually begins years before that since our entire society now looks to pills as the answer to every illness, from childhood to adulthood.)

The seduction comes in a wide array of forms (not excluding attractive women) who meet with doctors, provide detailed information, and extol the virtues of the drug, even giving free samples. Big Pharma sends out tens of thousands of drug reps (around 90,000 in 2003, up from around 30,000 in 1995) to the hospitals and medical offices of the country, peddling their wares in hopes that the doctors will endorse their product by prescribing it. My experience has been that not a single doctor who has prescribed a medication to me ever explained to me what potential side effects existed with the product. Why not? Well, that’s simple. If they did that, most patients would refuse to take the drug, as I did in the hospital and in other instances, once I learned about the side effects (from a wife who is diligent about such things and read the side effects to me in the hospital).

The pharmaceutical industry is a giant PR machine, and it spends tens of billions of dollars advertising and promoting its pills. In an article dated December 12, 2002 in the New York Times, the giant drug maker Merck was reported to have spent $161 million dollars on a single drug: Vioxx. This was more money than was spent advertising Pepsi ($125 million) or Budwiser beer ($146 million). This is a drug that was withdrawn from the market in 2004 after scores of unsuspecting patients began having heart attacks and strokes. In a class action lawsuit, a settlement was reached in which over 58,000 persons made a claim, and Merck agreed to settle for $4.85 billion dollars. (Thank God for Plaintiff lawyers, folks. They hold such giants responsible and keep them half-way honest.)

We need to wake up and realize that Big Pharma does not have our best interests at heart. We need to understand that they are what they are: a business. They look at the bottom line. They are in business to make money. They make money convincing doctors that the remedy we need for a particular disease or medical condition is their drug. Side effects are deemed to be acceptable risks, outweighing the potential benefits. Natural healing has no place in the pharmaceutical world. They're not in the business of making people healthy by any means. They are in the business of selling drugs. If their pill helps someone recover from a disease, that's good for business. And, if the pill harms someone, or kills someone, or several someones, well, that's just part of the acceptable casualties. They are willing to take the risk.

We also need to understand better, the long, established relationship the pharmaceutical industry has had with our doctors. We need to realize that their billions of dollars of advertising have eroded true medical science as much as it has evolved it. We need to appreciate the fact that doctors are, for the most part, pill oriented. Healing is not their art. Treatment is their thing. Using natural healing ingredients is not treatment to the average doctor.

Stop and think about it for a moment. If someone came to you and said: “I want to sell you some tomatoes. This is a good product and has all kinds of health benefits. However, these tomatoes do does have some potential side effects. They might cause you to bleed internally. And, you may have to stay out of the sun. Also...” At this point, you’d interrupt and say, “Are you nuts? Do you think I’m going to buy any tomatoes from you?"

Interesting, isn’t it? We’d chase anyone away from us who tried to peddle bad food to us, and would not dream of putting such a bad product in our bodies. But, because someone in a white coat holds something out with the potential to do us catastrophic harm, we somehow are willing to turn off our brains and accept whatever they proffer. (Most doctors could probably peddle bad tomatoes to most of their patients.) We don’t even ask about the potential consequences. And some patients, even if they know the risk, are willing to accept the risk. Why? Because someone in a white coat has said we have to take it, and they have taken an authoritative stance that clearly says that they are the professional-who-knows, and that this is the only way you’re going to get better, and if you don’t take it, well, you may die, or you may worsen.

They don’t give any other options. Natural healing, foods, vitamins or other such remedies as a treatment is almost never an option. Many, if not most doctors would bristle at a suggestion that someone could actually shrink a cancer tumor, even cause it to disappear, merely through diet. (Doctors and researchers in The China Study showed it to be possible.)

And so it is, Americans by the millions ingest tainted tomat...uh, pills with potential, life-threatening side effects, without blinking...except when they swallow the pill.

America is swallowing more than pills.


Gina Locke said...

The majority of what you said rings true to me and is also of high personal interest. I can't tell you how many times a doctor has looked at me like I'm an alien, simply because I said "no thank-you" to a prescription!

The only thing I might disagree with you on here is the perception of doctors. There is SO much information out now and so much technology available. How can they be expected to keep up with everything? Most people WANT to get fixed with a magic pill. The sheer number of new drugs would be nearly impossible to have a working knowledge of, so the doctors are pretty much dependent on the honesty of the drug pushers, are they not? Sad, but I think it's true.

I think this is going to be an actual benefit of the economic crisis we're going through. People will turn to good old fashioned healthy eating and home remedies rather than pay $20 for a magic pill, and they'll find that a whole lot of the pharmaceuticals out there are NOT NEEDED! Right?

Voyle Glover said...

"The only thing I might disagree with you on here is the perception of doctors. There is SO much information out now and so much technology available. How can they be expected to keep up with everything?" -Gina

Problem is this: If a doctor tells me to take a pill, he has an ethical, moral and professional responsibility to know about that medication and what it can do, what it might do, and what it is likely to do. There is no excuse and they cannot defend by pointing the finger at Big Pharma and saying, "They told me..."

Gina, you're dead on target about the "old fashioned healthy eating." I'm for it. Wish I'd done more of it years ago.