Pharmaceuticals: UPsides/DOWNsides

The Avodart you see advertised on TV claims to help men suffering from frequent urination by shrinking their enlarged prostates. It also threatens the women in their lives with giving birth to babies having severely deformed sex organs. The women don’t have to actually take the pill: they simply have to handle it to be in danger.

Propecia will grow hair on men’s balding heads but carries similar birth defects risks for women who may handle these pills. Propecia can also destroy male libido or, worse, leave the sprit willing and the flesh weak through drug-related impotence.

On that score, erectile dysfunction-- which presidential wannabe Senator Bob Dole parlayed into a household word—is treated with Viagra or Cialis. These drugs not only threaten to kill men with cardiovascular issues, they also promise some takers with priapism-- painful and dangerous erections lasting six hours or more.

Thousands of “miracle” drugs on which we depend have created a lexicon of contraindications and dangerous side effects we ought to take more seriously. Those intimidating (and boring looking) inserts stapled to each prescription package go unread in too many cases, but they could save lives. Pharmacists stand ready to answer questions but too many patients ignore or are unaware of drug warnings.

Physicians, on the other hand, are overly willing to dispense drugs without taking the time to discuss risks and side effects with patients. Telephoning in a prescription or jotting one down on a prescription pad are easier options, and both take less time than dialogue or patient education. As a consequence we have an overmedicated society and one that may be unknowingly in danger.

On another front, Barbara K. Hecht, PhD and Frederick Hecht, MD, Medical Editors for are concerned about drug marketing trends. They wrote about Zelnorm, an irritable bowel syndrome remedy for women:

"We have been bothered by some of the current Zelnorm advertising, For example, ads on television present a group of very attractive women, all smiling and showing off their trim, tanned, well-toned midsections. One gets the immediate impression that Zelnorm has something to do with being young, pretty and in great shape. It would not be very glamorous to state on prime-time TV that Zelnorm is actually intended to 'increase the movement of stools (fecal matter) through the bowels' but that is, in fact, what this drug is intended to do."

In other words, “It’s a laxative, and you’ll still be fat after you take it.”

It’s time we evaluated whether having a full head of hair or being able to engage in sex marathons in our golden years are worth the risks. The downsides of Avodart and Propecia for women and their progeny seem at least as serious as second hand smoke, yet they remain unknown. Where medications are concerned, the question should be, “What’s the tradeoff?”

Producer Novartis took Zelnorm off the market in March 2007. Seems it not only moved “fecal matter” but also caused heart attacks and strokes. Makes you wonder how many other prescriptions America could live (better) without?

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Mary Ann Sorrentino

Mary Ann Sorrentino
Italy Series of articles runs Aug./Sept/Oct 2015

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