Updates for Wednesday, October 5th [2005]

Sick Day

10/5/2005

Dear Friends,

Well, I haven't much energy to give to you, my comrades, for I have found myself stricken with a vile disease. High fever, aching tiredness, sore throat, body aches, and headaches appear to be amongst the symptoms. Natalie has come to attend much to my side.

Me: I fear that I am growing extremely ill. Should we not summon the doctor?

Natalie: You talk like you think the doctor's just going to drive over here and check on you. It's the flu, Thomas. Just ride it out and take it easy. You can call in sick to work for the next few days if you need to and stay here in bed.

Me: Why wouldn't the doctor come over? I am dire with a deadly illness, is that not what he does?

Natalie: You're being silly again, Thomas. If you want we can make an appointment and go see a doctor, all he'll do is prescribe us some antibiotics and tell you to get rest and drink plenty of fluids. That's something we can do without seeing him. Now if you get worse for whatever reason, then we can go. Didn't you get vaccinated?

Me: Vaccination? Why yes, I was vaccinated against the smallpox.

Natalie: Oh Thomas, you're so funny sometimes. The last case of smallpox was nearly 30 years ago! The only place smallpox exists anymore is in government research facilities. I'm talking about the flu. Now stop exaggerating and take this cough syrup. Now open up...

Me: Gack! What vile tonic is this, woman? Some magic elixir that is supposed to make me feel spry like a young lad, or cure all that ails me?

Natalie: Oh, stop overreacting, this fluid will help the cough.

Me: If you say so, but it seems like nothing so vile can do anything to help, except maybe act as a placebo to the gullible.

Natalie: You fuss too much, you act like the flu is going to kill you.

Me: I've seen people die with symptoms like mine. They remain bedridden and their conditions degrade, some of my sl... I mean, coworkers, died of this "flu" or something similar. So excuse me for being skeptical... but the times I remember, the "flu" surely could be deadly. Perhaps you did not know, but I had a daughter...

Natalie: You never told me you had a daughter! What is her name?

Me: I've actually had several children, with my first wife, Martha. And her name was Lucy Elizabeth.

Natalie: Oh, wow. You seem somewhat young to have had children.

Me: We're really only as old as we feel. As I was saying, Lucy Elizabeth, I had to witness her pass away to the whooping cough. And several children of mine died in their infancy of various diseases. I felt so helpless, the doctors could not even help Martha after she gave birth to Lucy. So my concern for my own health is more a direct result of having to witnessed illness take my family.

Natalie: That's so sad, I'm so, so sorry Thomas. I never knew... listen, you just lie down and relax, try to focus on getting some rest, and I'm going to make you some chicken soup. That will certainly feel good on that sore throat, won't it?

Me: Yes, I'd like that.

I am recovering now, but I have been sick for most of the week. Most of it was spent at Natalie's, but a couple of days were at home where Daniel did nothing but complain about not wanting me to cough on him. After some research into the matter I realized that my immune system is a bit... out of date, which is probably why it hit me so hard. It gave me time to think about some things, though.

Me: So Daniel, I have a question.

Daniel: You always have questions, just don't breath on me or drizzle your boogers all over me. I don't want to get sick too.

Me: What do you know about this FDA?

Daniel: The... uh... Federal Department of Agricultural stuff?

Me: No, the Food & Drug Administration.

Daniel: Oh! Them. Well, I know James told me several times that we need to put more restrictions on animal testing. I don't know what to think about the FDA.

Me: Well, I was doing some research on modern medicine, and found out about this government organization. It seems to me that the regulations against importing already tested drugs and the extremely high standards for drug approval drive up the drug prices, making them less available to people who need them. Likewise, I think this discourages cheap treatments for specific diseases, and the drug companies work harder to produce generic, super-drugs that cure a wider number of ailments to justify the great expense of going through the approval process, and that these super-commercialized drugs are both unsafe and have nasty side effects.

Daniel: Probably.

Me: Likewise, it seems to me that the process for approval is far too long, and that more people die from waiting for the drug than could ever die or be harmed by the drug entering the market "too early".

Daniel: Like I said, I don't really know much about this, and I really don't care.

Me: Also, although I have heard of drugs like thalidomide, it seems to me that the danger that is greater than the FDA approving the wrong drugs is the FDA failing to approve a beneficial drug. There is no self-correcting mechanism in place to stop this from happening, and denial of a beneficial drug, or excessively delaying it, can cost thousands of lives... and with dangerous drugs being such negative press, and the FDA having such great financial incentive to test it further, who is to prevent the FDA from being dangerously cautious?

Daniel: Tommy-boy, man. I don't know. Seriously. I don't know why you expect that every American should know every little thing about their government. It's not like your days. Our government is huge. It'd take whole courses just to understand each little bit. Why bother? I hardly even find the time to vote.

Me: Sorry, it's just, being sick has caused me to fixate on these issues. I do in a way hope that you would care... but, nevermind. I'm sure I can find some way to address this in my letter to Congress. You know, a contemporary of mine, John Adams, he was a good man to enter into debate with. I'd throw ideas at him and he'd certainly help me hone them. I just wished, Daniel, that perhaps you would play something of the same role.

Daniel: I ain't not no founding father, man. I'm just a dude. And go lay down or something, I don't want to get your cancerous plague.

Good friends, I wish you all the best of health & prosperity.

- TH. Jefferson

Editor's Notes:

Today's entry, mainly focusing on the FDA, covers a few bases. Not even a hundred years ago (1918), influenza (or the "flu") was one of the world's most deadly diseases, killing people faster than almost anything else in human history. In fact, that particular strain was resurrected recently by scientists, the "bird flu" (or the "avian flu"). Today though, we can provide vaccines on a regular basis to stop the highly flexible, mutating disease. Still, I think we take modern science for granted, and that it is too broiled in bureaucracy. Back in the early days, doctors making personal visits and ascribing simple solutions to people's problems was the norm. Perhaps it was a simpler time, more susceptible to quackery, but our modern-day response is extreme.

We, as a society, can produce sensible cures that are tested and safe without having to abide by the multi-million dollar approval process that the FDA currently promotes. Drugs should be allowed to be used in the U.S. if they have proven track records outside the U.S., and drugs currently in testing should be provided as options for patients who otherwise have no other options. Especially in terminal cases for which there are no known cures. Rejecting these treatments should always be in the hands of the patient... no one is suggesting we create a system where drugs are randomly injected into corporate slaves or anything silly like that.

A quick look at why this is a problem of efficiency that we desperately need to correct:

- 3,500 kidney cancer patients died during the 3 1/2 years that the FDA refused to approve Interleukin-2, which would have drastically cut down such fatalities. This is in spite of the fact that 9 European nations had approved the drug.

- 14,000 heart attack victims could have been saved by a cardio-pump device delayed for 2 years by the FDA, again another example of a life-saving device that was delayed needlessly. The expensive approval process has made the cardio-pump a spendy item indeed, most people could not afford the treatment even if they wanted it.

- 46,000 deaths a year are caused by breast cancer, yet the FDA refuses to approve the Sensor Pad, an early-detection system that greatly improves the ability of doctors to detect and treat breast cancer... Canada took 60 days to approve this device, while the FDA has taken over 9 years and still has not approved it.

- It took 10 years from the inception of the FDA for it to take cardiovascular disease treatments seriously.

- Various estimates state that the FDA's delays kill tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of people, by forcing them to wait for drugs and treatments the FDA refuses to approve, for whatever reason. This is in spite of the fact that many of these treatments are widely regarded by national and global professionals to be fit for use, and may even have proven track records in the field. Unfortunately, we cannot get an accurate estimate, but we can estimate that these totals are lofty, since most drugs tested by the FDA cost well over an average of $800 million per drug to conform to regulations, and that these drugs can be delayed from 5 to 10 years after their discovery before they go to the market (and sometimes even longer than that), contributing to their unavailability.

- More recently, the FDA was so paranoid about health concerns that it prevented MRE (Meals Ready to Eat) ration packets from the British government (which the British government has used for years within its military) from being sent to the U.S. for Hurricane Katrina relief. The FDA's rules state all meat must be destroyed upon importation, and the MRE's contained meat products (in long-term preserved packets, that is). American soldiers use the same rations when under NATO command, and there has yet to be any reported health problems.

- The FDA costs society almost $50 billion a year in regulatory expenses, and nearly $2 billion a year in administration expenses.

These are just a few small examples of the inefficient bureaucratic nightmare that is the FDA. You can come to your own opinions about the way modern science develops cures to conventional ailments, however I think that quackery prevails in the form of groups like the FDA, who spend more of their time approving cure-all super-drugs (complete with cheesy television commercials) to make hundreds of thousands of dollars, instead of cheap drugs that serve as practical solutions to real health concerns.

At the very least, we need to rely on something less political when it comes to sensitive, objective sciences such as medicine. In short, we need to A) reform the FDA so it is less weighty and unyielding and then B) consider alternatives to the FDA (many other nations use successful methods, many of them private)... and take those alternatives seriously. Assuming that the FDA is too "risky" an organization to reform, and that it should keep its anti-comptetitive monopoly on the final diagnosis of all modern medical treatments, is sheer lunacy.

As it was put by Sam Kazman of the Competitive Enterprise Institute... "If the government approves a drug that will save lives tomorrow, how many people died yesterday waiting for the government to act?"


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