Thursday, July 20, 2006

QIR's challenge: something to talk about

Last week, one of my coworkers told me that her husband had finally figured out what was causing all his weird health problems. He has Cipro poisoning.

Yes! This is a thing, most notably documented in the postal workers in DC given Cipro as a preventative measure when all the anthrax mailings were going on. Nearly 60% of them developed side effects that have worsened as time has gone on. Symptoms get worse and worse over time, and there's no cure or even treatment.

Apparently, the company that makes Cipro made a buttload of it after September 11th, thinking it would be stockpiled and popped like candy, and then the scare wasn't as big as they'd counted on and they couldn't sell enough of it. So they started convincing doctors to prescribe it to their patients for everyday infections to use up the stockpile.

I'm not saying Cipro is all evil. It's one of the few defenses we have against some really nasty infectious diseases (like anthrax), but in my opinion, should be used only for those life-threatening infections. Because my coworker's husband, those postal workers, and all kinds of other people have ended up with symptoms much like Gulf War Syndrome, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, fibromyalgia, all those "hard to diagnose" diseases with unpleasant but not fatal symptoms. Having these conditions sure does affect a person's quality of life, though.

My coworker told me stories she'd read of adolescent girls given Cipro for bladder infections, only to die a week later of heart attacks. Her husband was given Cipro twice within a year's span for two minor infections. Like using a chainsaw to cut a straw. His doctor, the one who had prescribed the Cipro in the first place, claims that nothing's wrong with him; it's all in his head, Cipro doesn't have any bad side effects. And who is the doctor working for?

While this is an alarming situation (don't take Cipro unless you absolutely HAVE to! Tell your doctor to prescribe some other antibiotic!), it's only one more instance of Big Pharma throwing its weight around for financial gain. Medical research, particularly pharmaceutical research, is primarily done in this country with the ultimate goal of profit. Since they've been allowed to advertise prescription drugs on TV, in magazines, and on billboards, I'm sure their profits have skyrocketed. Because people ask for the brand names, and it's killing programs like Medicaid (and I'm sure driving up the cost of health insurance for everyone).

The controversy comes when we have to weigh the motives of Big Pharma (profit!) against the good that results from the research the industry conducts. Sure, it's easy to laugh at commercials that talk about 4 hour boners or restless leg syndrome, but there are now drugs available to help men get and maintain erections who may not have been able to reliably do so before, or help people to know they're not the only ones who have the pains in their legs and get awakened throughout the night by limbs that won't stay still. There's something out there to help those people. There's something out there to help a lot of people who used to have to suffer in many ways. I'm sure Big Pharma research has helped improve the lifespans and quality of life for many, many people around the world.

I'm not saying that I like the pill-popping, drug dependant culture we've become. Because taking a pill to "make you feel better" has led to situations like the increasing numbers of drug-resistant strains of bacteria that are killing people in hospitals every day. I think we'd all do better to really think about the drugs we're taking and the products we use (who the hell needs antibacterial everything? Haven't people heard of SOAP?). But I also know that a lot of good has come out of the research done by Big Pharma. It's too bad there isn't another way to do this research without having to guarantee a big return on investment, because I bet that there are a lot more drugs and procedures out there that would help a lot of people - but that don't add to the shareholders' wallets.

And it's absolutely deplorable that when a pharmaceutical company bets wrong, thousands of people have to suffer effects for the rest of their lives - because their doctors prescribed a drug that should be used only in extreme cases, and a much milder (and less caustic) antibiotic would have been just as effective. My coworker's husband is in his early 30s, so he's got a good 50 years or so to live with his health problems. And I bet no drug company out there is researching how to cure, treat, or counteract the effects of Cipro on the general population. It's a conflict of interest, and won't make them enough money to bother.

1 comment:

Monkey McWearingChaps said...

I didn't even know that they were prescribing Cipro like amoxycillin. That's very...odd.

Then again, the incestuous relationship between doctors and big pharm is so ridiculous. They start wooing them in the first year of medical school. Much like my first year of law, back when the industry was booming and we would be seduced to this organization or that one by promises of hookerz and blow (okay, red wine and chicken satay), drug reps throw nice little banquets/free dinners for med students starting in their first year. My sister could drink and eat for free everyday of medical school if she really wanted.

I find 2 really frustrating things about pharmaceutical companies

1) The most frustrating thing is that Big Pharm for Profit is enormously about taking the profit out on Americans, alone. We're the #1 source of medical R&D in the world, followed *distantly* by Germany, yet the cost is recouped almost entirely on you and me because of the bargaining between governments with nationalised healthcare and big pharm. Everytime I have to listen to a smugly Canadian/Euro talk about their nationalised healthcare plan and how its such a shame we don't have the same I want to smack the righteous out of their heads by pointing out that certain elements of the international healthcare economy are funded entirely out of the pockets of Americans and were the situation to change THEY would have to pay more.

2) I think it's wrong the way they go into foreign countries and try to steal long-recognised plants and remedies and then patent them. Patent them! Plants! Colonialism never really ended-after years of plundering jewels/art/monies/human beings blahblahblah, now they're plundering knowledge!! It burns. I mean, maybe this is just the way things are and have to be but I expect the West to be a little grateful for that instead of sitting on their fattened haunches acting like they're doing the rest of the world favours.

Okay, rant over.