Tuesday, February 27, 2001

Allowing pharmaceutical companies to advertise prescription drugs on television was a bad mistake. Every hypochondriac in the country now has a medicinal buffet to choose from. It is much like giving them a menu featuring pills. Patients who never realized they needed a particular drug now feel free to request a specific medicine from their doctors. Doctors find themselves with patients who diagnose their own illnesses, and to make things even easier for them, prescribe their own drugs.

On top of that, the FDA is worried about doctors prescribing the wrong drug for the wrong patient. This happens because doctors fail to read the voluminous warnings that are readable only in bright light with perfect vision. Not only does the doctor have to diagnose your problem, he must be familiar with how thousands of drugs are going to interact with each other and what they will do to you if you are suffering from problems other than the one he is treating. It’s a wonder some doctors can keep a clean record.

The FDA hopes to eliminate the fine print and make drug warnings easy to spot so the physician doesn’t have to spend 30 minutes reading the “don’t blame us” warnings put out by the pharmaceutical company. All drugs come with side effects, and there will always be some people who can’t tolerate a drug that the majority of us have no problem with. Over 100,000 people die due to drug side effects each year. When you look at the thousands of drugs available, is it any wonder that the doctor may feel stretched?

The evening news seems to be prime time for advertising drugs. We see a woman with arthritis practicing the martial arts. She has been born again thanks to some new miracle drug. The bad news is that we must be warned of the side effects at the same time we are informed of the good news. These warnings are usually delivered by a former carnival pitchman who speaks at a rate of 150 words per minute. He’s probably the same guy that hawks the slicer and dicer equipment on the shopping channel.

Back to those people who succumb easily to suggestion, hypochondriacs. Once a side effect becomes common knowledge, the more apt some people are to fall victim to it. Does the patient really need to know all of the horrible things that can go wrong when you swallow a pill? A simple “call me if you have a problem” should be enough warning for those of us without a degree in chemistry. There is such a thing as knowing more than you need to know.

It would seem the easy part of the doctor’s job is diagnosing what is wrong with you. The hard part is prescribing the right drug. This becomes even more difficult if you are taking two or three prescription drugs. Finding how drugs interact with each other would put my high powered computer to the test. Yet, this guy with the stethoscope and cold hands is supposed to know if my heart medicine, my cholesterol pill and my over-the-counter cough syrup will have any adverse effect on my body. That’s why we see the lawyers constantly circling the clinic.

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