Monday, 18 March 2013

Pharmaceuticals: cost, choice, medical collusion, adverse reactions in patients

I have written to Dan and the letter is set out below.  I would love to hear from others with similar experiences.

Dear Dan,

Would have liked to submit this as a comment on your article in The Age but could not find somewhere to do it.  That's why I am writing to you as author of the article.

I am an Aged Pensioner with a Health Card.  When I go to the chemist to get a prescription filled, I am asked whether I am happy to have a generic brand.  I always agree to generics.

Q:  Is this me doing something for the Federal Budget or does it not make one iota of difference?

My understanding is that in being offered a generic, I am being asked to accept a product which is in the same pharmaceutical class as that prescribed by my medical practitioner.

Q:  Is this correct?

I have grave distrust for pharmaceutical companies.  From my research on the internet, I understand that major pharmaceutical corporations are not allocating funds to research as well they might considering the large profits accruing from some of their best-selling drugs.  Instead, the PCs  look for other uses for their drugs.  

As well, because of collusion between medical practitioners and pharmaceutical corporations, virtually no attention is made to adverse reactions to pharmaceuticals in patients.  As an instance of this, I give you Lipitor manufactured by Pfizer.  I was taking Lipitor and other medications including nutrition supplements (some of these prescribed by my GP).  I was 66 years of age at the time.  I am 69 this year. I was most unwell and going downhill fast.  I thought to myself: I am on all these medications which, supposedly, are to make me well.  I was so unwell that I was on a walking stick.  Too reach out to turn a light switch on and off hurt.  I could not put my bra on in the time-honoured way.  It was too painful.  My shoulders hurt so much.  I had to fasten my bra at the front and then twist and turn to get it on correctly.  

I made a decision - without telling my GP.  I went off all medications - even vitamin pills.  

I sent the list of my medications to a pharmacist I knew.  He emailed back and said: I think it's the statin.  The statin was Lipitor.  After a few days without my medications, I began to feel better.  After a week, I was becoming markedly better and continue to be so.  I gradually re-introduced everything except the Lipitor.  Things remained OK - so, clearly, no culprits there. Definitely, the statin!  

After a month, I went to my GP and told her.  Oh, yes, she said, you can get a few tweaks and twinges on Lipitor.  I have refused Lipitor ever since.  This drives whoever is my GP at the time nuts!  Could tell you a few more stories about medicos and statins but you get the drift.  

There is a reason I have taken time to explain this experience.  That is the unscientific attitudes of the medical profession and their collusion with pharmaceutical companies.  You see, there is nowhere that I have been able to find - and I have searched and asked - somewhere to report adverse reactions to pharmaceuticals.  One GP who I complained to about this said: That's because we already know the contraindications.  My response was: Yes, you may know the contraindications but you don't have any data on how many contraindications to pharmaceuticals there are in Australia; whether the numbers are going up and down; their dispersion by geography, gender, age etc.  

Q:  Can you do a story on the this topic? 

Lipitor is not the only pharmaceutical to which I have adverse reaction.  The other is an antibiotic called Macrodantin.  Because of this medication, I ended up hospitalised with asymptomatic pneumonia (otherwise known as Walking Pneumonia because it doesn't have the same painful symptoms as ordinary Pneumonia). When I got out of hospital and recovered after this most debilitating illness, I looked up on the product site the contraindications for Macrodantin.  Turns out that one of the obscure reactions is Walking Pneumonia - one of the SARS group.  On admission to the hospital, I mentioned that I felt it may be an adverse reaction to Macrodantin.  No one discussed this with me.  No one came back and said we researched this and we found out that what you are suffering could be an adverse reaction to the drug.  In short, no one wants to know. Why?  In the absence of any other reason that I can think of, I consider it is because of collusion between medicos and pharmaceutical companies.  I would not be surprised to find similar collusion between governments and the aforesaid pharmaceutical companies.

I mentioned that I am an Aged Pensioner.  I have formed the view, based on my adverse experiences, that - as far as pharmaceutical companies are concerned - the aged and the chronically ill are repeat business; the same sort of repeat business that gambling, alcohol, and tobacco produce with the exception that the doorway to this repeat business is a university educated medical practitioner.  

I have described to you adverse reactions to two drugs.  You could also investigate the repeat business of anti-depressant drugs such as Effexor.  I am pleased that these drugs are there to help.  I have a family member who has been on Effexor for years.  She had tried to get off the drug and ended up hospitalised.  Last year she eventually did it - with the support of a helpful partner and a helpful website who gave a strict regimen for how to do it.  As the family member said, getting on Effexor is easy.  Try getting off!  Repeat business you see.  

Most ordinary citizens don't seek out prescription drugs to abuse.  People are actually abused by professional collusion.  One of the factors, I believe, is that such professionals forget that they are in professions based on science.  In science - even sociology which is part of my uni degree - one learns about the bell curve.  It seems that our medicos have forgotten this little fact: a bell curve has a lot of numbers at the top (where most people are at) but there are smaller numbers either side (the exceptions to the majority rule).  Medicos that I have struck seem to forget there are exceptions.  That people like me exist.

Back to the Grattan Institute. I have a suggestion.  If govt is to do precisely what GI want and save billions, then I want a Consumers Medical/Pharmaceutical Research Institute established and managed by government - not the medical or pharmaceutical institutes or corporations - which is based on the experience of consumers in the medico-pharma industry.  Now that might prove to be a good return on investment!

Lastly, I would refer you to this program from ABC's Catalyst:

I particularly love this quote from the Catalyst program:

Prof David Le Couteur 
One of the joys of geriatric medicine is stopping medications and seeing people get better. We have phoenixes that rise from the ashes in geriatric medicine unlike any other specialty. People who come in that are very unwell and by the simple intervention of stopping medications we see people get better.

Would love to hear from you, 
@DHarrisonAgeSMH, that you can do a Walkley Award winning story about all this.

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