Monday, August 30, 2010

Stop Smoking by....Shooting Yourself?

by Kate

We all laugh at those drug commercials that show happy, frolicking people who have subdued the symptoms caused by an ailment (but not the ailment itself) by taking a magic pill, while in the background, a quietly somber voice lists the possible horrendous side effects of the drug.

We make fun of the pharmaceutical companies for producing ads that are shorter than their lists of side effects, and we mock the actors in the commercials who dance, shop, and smooch, oblivious of the voice of doom behind them telling them their anti-depressant can cause suicidal thoughts or behaviors, their allergy medication can cause severe sinus problems, or their new birth control pills can cause infertility.

Do we ever take those warnings seriously?

True story: A man in his forties came into my husband’s law office last week seeking help for a personal matter. As they talked, my husband couldn’t help but notice that the man kept rubbing his chest, as though it hurt, and a bandage was visible in the open collar of the man’s shirt.

Finally, my curious spouse asked the man if he was in pain. Yes, the man said, from a gunshot wound to his chest when he attempted to kill himself. Had he been depressed? No, he was trying to stop smoking. His doctor had prescribed one of the two drugs used for smoking cessation and had him taking a double dose. Then, get this, the doctor had him sign a waiver required by the drug’s maker.

I looked up this anti-smoking drug. In a huge black box in the middle of the page, the information started like this:


Serious neuropsychiatric events including, but not limited to, depression, suicidal ideation, suicide attempt and completed suicide have been reported in patients taking XXXXXXX.” (Emphasis mine).

The box continued for a total of five lengthy paragraphs. Remember, the doctor had prescribed a double dose and made him sign a waiver. Did this poor man even ask the doctor what the possible side effects were? Did the doctor offer?

As a less serious, but still troubling example, my friend’s husband is on a popular name brand statin to reduce cholesterol levels that are barely over that magical line set by Big Pharma. Three years into taking the drug, he developed memory problems severe enough to affect his work. Not realizing the connection, since his diet is healthy, his weight excellent, and he exercises regularly, he decided to cut back on his pills, taking half instead of a whole. Guess what? Memory problems are gone. He said it’s as if a fog has lifted. His goal now is to get off the pills altogether.

Here’s what I found by Googling this popular statin:

In addition to serious muscle and liver problems much clinical research has shown that XXXXXX’s negative side effects could include sexual performance problems and sexual dysfunction, as well as memory loss, irritability and personality changes.

It seems that we are so inundated by drug commercials that we tune them out, then joke about them later. But those two anecdotes are examples of why we shouldn’t be cavalier about the drug warnings. The side-effects are very real. They do happen to people.

Do you find this as scary as I do? Have you experienced any pharmacy-related side effects? What did you do about them?


Linda McDonald said...

YES....I do find this as scary as you do. Right now, I don't have any medical conditions so I am not taking any medications. But, I am going to do a lot of research if I ever am advised to take any medications. This is scary stuff. And what a story about the guy shooting himself! Wow!

mary in MO said...

I find this so frightening, and have had a couple of 'side effects' over the last few years.
I have opted not to take the medications, the effects were far worse that the condition they were supposed to help.
In my opinion, many doctors we see also tune out the possible side effects and drug interactions when prescribing the newest magic bullet touted by the pharmaceutical companies. I certainly was not 'told' about them and if I had not read the sheet from the pharmacy, wold not have known the 'new symptoms' were a side effect and not something worse.

Sheila Connolly said...

It is scary, because the side effects are often subtle and develop slowly. You aren't sure they're real, and if you tell your doctor about them, sadly she or he often doesn't believe you.

The disclaimers in ads are amusing, if horrifying. I particularly like the ones that go, "if you suffer from these symptoms, blah, blah, blah, including death, please contact your physician." Uh, isn't it a little late?

Barbara said...

Those commercials drive me insane, but what has me worried now is the statin side effects. My husband takes many prescription drugs for his chronic diseases and he takes a statin. I'm going to read the info as soon as I finish this.

Kate Collins said...

Another scary part is that some of the side effects aren't common ones, so patients don't connect the dots. My hubby suffered from a bad cramp in what he thought was his gall bladder area. He thought he had stones. The cramp would come and go for years. When he got off statins, he never had the cramp again.
Rural view, if you Google your husband's statin drug, you will see a site on the list called "your healthy heart." It tells ways to keep cholesterol in healthy ranges without statins. The fewer drugs, the better, IMHO.

Sheila, your comment made me laugh -- but it's really not funny. Yeah, death is a PRETTY serious side effect, and hard to call the doctor once you've suffered it.

Laineshots said...

Great blog, Kate. What a horror story that was about the man who signed a waiver and nearly died finding out why he shouldn't have!

We all need this reminder that doctors are not infallible. We all have to research any new drug and then be aware of any difference in how we feel. A pharmacist I trust says, "Anytime you feel different, first look at any new drugs you've been taking." Essential advice.

We all must be our own health advocates and detectives. Hey, we can do that - we're mystery lovers!

Anonymous said...

My husband has a hyperacidic stomach and out of sight triglicerides. But any stomach medicine, from Tagamet to Prilosec, eventually causes neuropathy in his toes. And the muscle spasms from the statin he's been on are scary.
He stopped taking the statin for the summer. Hate to think what his numbers will look like next month when he goes back to the doctor.
His father chain-smoked and we suspect some of his problems are related to second hand smoke.

Aimee said...

Kate, my boss had the exact same problem with the cholesterol drug. It was awful watching her be unable to complete a sentence because she couldn't remember common words.

My drug "horror" story is from taking a prescription cough medicine. I had a very bad case of the flu and it was turning into pneumonia so my doctor wanted to head that off. Not more than 20 minutes after my first dose I vomited profusely and within an hour had developed severe hallucinations and was completely unaware of both effects when I woke up the next morning. Turns out I had a rare-ish allergic reaction to the hydrocodone in the medication. Turns out hydrocodone is the same class as morphine (phenanthrenes) to which my father is extremely allergic (causing hallucinations and violent behavior).

Seems like doctors should ask those kinds of questions too before prescribing such strong pain relievers.

I take some of the blame because I was so sick and wanted to get better than I just didn't care to pay attention but even if I had it doesn't show that connection on the drug label so how would I have known? Now my pharmacist has that on my record but ... what else don't we know as patients?

Anonymous said...

My husband is 15 years older than me and overweight, yet he has great cholesterol. Why? We eat almonds. Ten of them with our breakfast every morning. Anoymous, get some almonds (and not the salted, roasted kind). I get mine at Sam's Club. They're about $10 a bag, which is a lot cheaper than taking Statins and very good for you, too. (I wish I could convince my mother to eat almonds. She believes in better living through chemistry and, unfortunately, trusts her doctor implicitly.

Gayle Carline said...

When I see TV ads for ANY drug, the only thing I ever listen to is that speed-of-light recitation of possible side effects. Then I make a mental note not to take that drug if the doctor offers.

Lover of Books said...

I am luckily not on anything right now and the drug I was on to regulate my blood sugar instead of taking insulin ( I HATE needles) never bothered me. There is one strong pain reliever that Icannot take though the name is not coming to me at this moment. I had most of the side effects, called the dr and was taken off of it. But it was not fun dealing with an ovarian cyst that was clotting and hemorrhaging inside of itself without pain relievers.


Kate Collins said...

Krista, there is excellent info on the website on ovarian cysts and what to do. My step-daughter had a severe case of PCOS and they helped her treat it successfully.
Anonymous, besides Lorraine's excellent suggestion, your husband might be having reactions to gluten in his diet. My daughter suffers from severe hyperacidity and when she eliminated glutens, her stomach problems went away. See my blog a few weeks back on the gluten problem.
Aimee, I had a bad reaction to hydrocodone, too. I will never take it again!
We do have to be our own advocates. I'd hate to be alone and put into a hospital without someone I trust watching over me.

Linda Leszczuk said...

The other problem with that long list of side effects? Suggestible patients. We had someone in our family would develop every side effect on the list. Okay, maybe not death, but pretty much everything else. Her doctors had to keep switching to other drugs, trying to find one she didn't have a "bad" reaction to.

Kate Collins said...

You're right, Linda. That's the flip side. If you know the side effects and are really suggestible, you will "have" those bad effects. The mind is so powerful.

Helen Kiker said...

One of the ways that this problem could be lessened is to have TV advertisements for prescription drugs to be banned. People ask thier doctors for meds that they could have avoided by heathy eating practices.

Helen Kiker

Vickie said...

It terrifies me that TV can't show cigarette commercials, but can show the hell out of drug commercials to all and sundry. I do admit to tuning out the side effects or rolling my eyes. I know they are serious, but I mostly can't believe that they are showing these and it gets people thinking that they might need these drugs. And really they don't. Or the doc prescribes the drug, they are seen on TV, therefore they are good. It terrifies me.

Kate Collins said...

Vickie, I totally agree, and Helen, I wish there was a way to get those ads banned!! The powerful tobacco lobby was defeated, but I wonder if the Big Pharma lobby is simply too powerful. It would take a massive rising of the people to force Congress to act. Wouldn't that be wonderful?

Anonymous said...

Was it chantix? I have been fighting with the psychiatrist I work with (I'm a therapist) for years over that one. I see people's symptoms get way worse on it. Especially when research shows the best combo for smoking cessation is zyban (wellbutrin) plus the patch.