As long as I’ve been a nurse, Tylenol has been a frequent encounter at work.
“First choice of hospitals” – my apologies to the relevant gang of corporate attorneys if I misquoted the old ads – this has been one of the few, honest to goodness, actual non-misleading truths I’ve ever seen from the ad armies of Pharma over the last two decades. Tylenol has long been first line, nearly universal in hospitals. How much money has been made on this medicine over the years? How much money spent defending this cash cow against all threats? If you were making that kind of money, how far would you go to protect it?
Why do I ask such a disturbing question? Read this report from the New York Times: The Limits of Tylenol for Pain Relief, then ask yourself one question. Why did it take so long – decades! – for such evidence to emerge, in this day and age in which “evidence” is now king of health care, or so the PR folks breathlessly tell us, over and over. Why?
At least acetaminophen (brand name Tylenol) is quite harmless, right? Actually, it kills a few hundred Americans each year (liver failure, a long and excruciating death). “Acetaminophen overdose sends as many as 78,000 Americans to the emergency room annually and results in 33,000 hospitalizations a year, federal data shows. Acetaminophen is also the nation’s leading cause of acute liver failure, according to data from an ongoing study funded by the National Institutes for Health”. It’s harmless, except that it’s the most dangerous over-the-counter pain remedy on the market. I couldn’t say how many people it has harmed outside of America. How much money do Americans spend cleaning up all the damage this medicine does?
How much evidence gets buried each year that medicines don’t work, or have publicly unknown adverse effects, because the facts would damage profitable brands? The Federal Drug Administration (FDA) allows Pharma to do its own research and submit or publish the results as it sees fit. How many pharmaceutical researchers these days DON”T work in one way or another for Pharma? Billion of dollars in profitable conflicts of interest couldn’t possibly risk misbehavior, could they? Americans are told to believe that many billions of dollars couldn’t convince corporate leaders to defraud of kill some people. We can and should trust them, with our lives, and pay them whatever they demand. It’s just business.
The Times also recently reported that “Popular weight-loss and workout supplements on sale in hundreds of vitamin shops across the nation contain a chemical nearly identical to amphetamine, the powerful stimulant, and pose dangers to the health of those who take them, according to a new study.” The chemical, BMPEA, has been banned elsewhere and known to FDA in at least nine different product for 2 years now, yet it “never made public the names of the products or the companies that made them. Neither has it recalled the products nor issued a health alert to consumers as it has done with other tainted supplements.” The FDA ignores a huge chunk of the “health” products people buy. Every day we hear ads promising risk-free relief for any symptom we have, ANYTHING, based on no proof at all. As long as they don’t mention diseases, it’s all perfectly legal. FDA tacitly approves.
Who does FDA work for these days? What is it’s mission? A century ago we had to wait for lots of people to die before a product was pulled from the market. Then the FDA came along and things got much safer. Recently, though, FDA has come to represent more the image of protection than the reality. Drugs recalls after patient deaths have become almost routine, a lucrative ritual: get a drug approved or sell something that requires no approval, make a pile of cash, pay off some lawsuits, come out far ahead, repeat. Over and over… Americans pay FAR more for their medicines than any other nation, and we get scammed this way?
Are we really such easy marks? Yes, it seems so. We’re Sucker Nation.
Shouldn’t we expect something rather better?