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Saturday, April 23, 2005


Why Drug Companies Suck So Very Much

When I think of the truly awful, malevolent, soul-crushing forces at work in this country, pharmaceutical companies are right at the top of my list. When I write my brilliant paranoid action-thriller screenplay, a pharmaceutical company will be the villain. When I see lawsuits being filed against huge pharmaceutical companies, I smile and hope that they bankrupt the bastards.

"But why?" you might very well ask. "How can you harbor so much bile against the people who have worked, and continue to work, to cure disease and improve so many lives?" And I understand why these questions might be raised. I, too, have seen the commercials in which the Huber-sincere chemist tearfully explains that the fight against Alzheimer's is very personal for them and that they hope to someday find a cure and dedicate it to their late grandma, who passed away five years ago from the disease. I've heard, as well, the pharmaceutical companies spew forth their rationale for charging outrageous fees for AIDS drugs, reminding us that their ongoing research and development is incredibly expensive and must be funded somehow.

I don't buy any of that, though. Because I was on Accutane.

In my teenage years, to the best of my recollection, I had fairly normal teenage skin. My acne wasn't too horrible. I had the occasional zit-popping session in the bathroom mirror, but nothing that bad. Until I got to college. Once there, I developed some pretty bad blemishes. Not your average, run-of-the-mill pimples, but huge mothers. I had this one about the size of a Jelly Belly that seemed to migrate from one side of my face to the other. I also got big ol' zits on my chest, which could be somewhat painful from time to time.

My dad, who had suffered from really awful acne when he was younger, wanted to spare me what he'd gone through, so, since I was still covered by his insurance, my folks took me to a dermatologist in Boardman, Ohio. This guy's office was hopping. Always a whole bunch of people waiting and usually nothing to read except friggin' Highlights.

The first time he saw me, I was called into an examination room after a forty-five minute wait and then sat there with my shirt off for another quarter of an hour before he came in. I don't remember him asking any questions of me. He gave me the briefest of once-overs, prodding me briefly and then leaving. Before he left, he muttered something about putting me on a medication.

My mother got the prescription filled and I took the pills back with me when I went back to school. The package itself kind of raised my eyebrow. It was a box of two dozen pills, each sealed beneath a foil layer, a plastic peel-back layer and a padlock. Over each pill, there was a picture of a pregnant woman with a circle around her and a line through, which I took to mean that I shouldn't get any women pregnant, because our baby might be born with my horrific skin.

The pills were, evidently, very strong. They dried my skin out. Like, mummy dry. My lips became a little strip of Sahara on my face. If I didn't keep them slathered with Vaseline Lip Therapy, I had a hard time opening my mouth wide enough to eat. I suffered a good number of the side effects listed on the box: mood swings, rectal bleeding, all that sort of fun stuff.

I tried to raise these concerns when I would go in for check-ins with my dermatologist. The thing is, he never actually stayed in the room long enough for me to ask him anything. He would come in and look me over for, literally, thirty seconds, grunt and leave. I think I actually managed to raise a question about the rectal bleeding once. He said something along the lines of "No you're not" and left.

I was on these fucking pills for, if I remember correctly, about five months. When I was about four months in, I was so miserable that I went to another dermatologist for a second opinion. He asked me what I was on and I said Accutane and he did sort of a shudder take. He asked me how often my doctor was taking blood samples and I said, "...blood samples?" Apparently, this Accutane shit was supposed to be used only as a last resort, after everything else had failed. Your doctor was supposed to take blood samples before, during and after treatment and carefully monitor the effects this medicine was having on you. Apparently, my dermatologist was not exactly following protocol.

I opted not to stop taking the pills, as I'd already put in so much time and I only had a month or so to go. But it pissed me off. And I wondered why he immediately put me on this medicine. I wondered why he never bothered to do any of the things he was supposed to do. The best I could figure, and I admit that this is not giving him the benefit of the doubt, was that he was receiving some kind of kickback from the drug's manufacturer and he was putting his kids through college by prescribing Accutane for anybody he could.

A few years ago, a kid flew a plane into a building in Florida. His family says he was on Accutane. I've seen, in the last year or so, ads on the subway for ambulance-chasing law firms looking for former Accutane-takers to join a class-action lawsuit. And I have to wonder how much of my depression in college was heightened by this shit. Would the zits have gone away without it? Would I have been a little less morose and gotten laid more?

This is why, when I see commercials for drugs on television; when I read about drug companies fighting against seniors getting their drugs at a discount from Canada; when I see one miracle drug after another being pulled off the market because it kills people, it reaffirms for me the fact that pharmaceutical companies are evil, evil buckets of bile. Which is why I suggest sick people should just drink some tea.

Accutane sounds like the work of the devil. Preying on a young man's fear of rejection. Although rectal bleeding sounds like a pretty sure-fire way of not getting laid. Talk about your college insecurities. Wow. I'd blame the doctor though, not the drug company. Well, maybe the drug company too. and George Bush.
I took accutane too! years later I was still finding those little tabs with the figure of the pregnant lady in the corners of the bathroom. But in my case they did screen my liver every month like they were supposed to. maybe your guy wasn't really even licensed to practice dermatology - he was probably an entemologist or somthing and just used wite out and a sharpie to fake a diploma. Look into it.

Note to self: Never use accutane.
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