Wednesday, December 13, 2000

Drug detective

Here’s a bulletin from the Food and Drug Administration: Don’t trust your doctor.

Well, they didn’t put it quite that way. Instead, in an effort to defend themselves from accusations that they approve new drugs too quickly, administration officials are warning that your doctor may not be reading all the fine print before prescribing the latest miracle medication. And that it’s doctors’ heedless ignorance of precautions--not the FDA’s heedless, drug-company-urged rush to put drugs on the market--that causes people to die from side effects. And then the drugs have to be banned, though they might have helped so many.

Drug tests are necessarily limited, the FDA admits, and it’s not always clear how millions of people will respond to new drugs until millions of people are taking them. But often new medications do come with advice on who they should not be prescribed to, and, apparently, often doctors just can’t be bothered to read that advice. So whose job is it to make sure the wrong people don’t take the wrong pills? Why, us, the patients! As if we don’t have enough to do.

Now I know we all feel sorry for our doctors, poor overworked and underpaid wretches that they are, and don’t expect them to actually read the reams of material that comes with...oh, wait a minute. These are the folks that charge us $75 for ten minutes and keep us waiting an hour for the privilege. Surely sometime in their busy schedule of golf and conferences, they could find time to actually find out what it is they’re prescribing. Or at least hire someone to figure it out.

But no--we expect too much. We are to take that prescription slip home, hit the internet, and figure out if it’s right for us or not. The FDA recommends questioning doctors about new prescriptions--Why are you giving this to me? Why is it better than what I was taking before? Do you have a clue what you’re doing? Hey, where are you going with my clothes?--but there are of course two problems with that. One: If the trouble with these new prescriptions is that doctors don’t know what their prescribing, how is asking them going to help? They don’t know! And two: Doctors don’t like to be questioned. Particularly if they don’t know. But even if they do. Sometimes I think Nike got its slogan from the medical profession: Just do it.

Amusing as this carping between the FDA and the doctors is, I know where it’s going to end. The next time you hear about this dispute, the doctors will have an answer: It’s the patient’s fault. They come in here clamoring for some medicine they saw on a commercial, and though we haven’t had time to fully investigate it, we have to give it to them to keep them happy. Yeah, that’s the ticket.

Hey, it worked with antibiotics.

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