Opinion | Susan Knopf: Your Rx may be killing you and other fun facts
Little Anderson Moreno of Ann Arbor, Michigan, was awaiting a transplant when he was given a bacteria-tainted stool softener. The harmful bacteria were later found in Moreno’s lungs. The Port Huron Times Herald reports Moreno now breathes through a tracheotomy tube as a result of the lung damage he suffered.
Denise Shreck of New Jersey got an “URGENT PRODUCT RECALL” notice from her pharmacy. It said valsartan, the generic blood pressure medication she’d been taking for four years, was contaminated with a known carcinogen found in jet fuel.
Neither incident surprised former U.S. Food and Drug Administration inspector Massoud Motamed. “This is only the tip of the iceberg,” Motamed told NBC News in an exclusive interview. Kaiser Health News reports 8,000 medicines have been recalled in the past six years. Some medications contained bacteria, others molds, tiny glass particles, or too much or too little active ingredients.
Some of this is due to the importation of medication ingredients from China, India and elsewhere. But in the case of Anderson Moreno, the Rugby Diocto oral liquid docusate was manufactured by a U.S. company, PharmaTech LLC of Davie, Florida. It’s really hard to swallow FDA warnings about buying foreign prescriptions when U.S. manufacturers are harming us with bacteria-contaminated medications. For the record, the FDA has a list of drugs that may contain carcinogens. And there’s a list of drugs free of carcinogens. I know that sounds ludicrous. Check out the link for KHN. The report will blow your mind.
What’s the FDA doing about it? Telling us to be calm and carry on. They say go ahead and take carcinogen-laced meds. It’s OK; it won’t hurt you in the long run. “Our scientists estimate that if 8,000 people took the highest daily Valsartan dose (320 mg) that contained NDMA for four years (the amount of time we believed the affected products had been on the U.S. market), there may be one additional case of cancer beyond the average cancer rate among Americans.” That means the FDA didn’t do anything about the problem for four years.
How did this happen? Too little oversight. Too few inspectors. Motamed says FDA inspectors are struggling to keep up with foreign production. Last year, the FDA only inspected about 20% of prescription manufacturing plants here at home and overseas, according to NBC. Motamed left the FDA after his warnings about a Chinese plant were overruled. He said here at home when there’s a problem, the inspector can act. Abroad, there’s often too little time to look into the issue, and often no recourse. Tell your right-wing friends who’d like to see our government reduced to a defensive military force. Tell your congressional representatives we need more inspections and more quality control authority over imported and domestically manufactured medicines.
Good economic news, not good for everyone
Our officials are not just delusional about the safety of our prescription drugs, they also don’t seem to get the rising tide of economic prosperity is not caressing everyone’s beachhead. The president says the first quarter 3.2% increase in GDP is a result of the tariffs. He’s right. U.S. companies stockpiled inventories in anticipation of the tariffs. Economists say that’s not real growth.
And while unemployment figures may be down, so is consumer buying power. In an NPR interview, Federal Reserve Gov. Lael Brainard said he is very concerned about Americans earning between $45K and $85K per year. He says their wages have not kept up with the rising costs of housing, health care and education. He says they are slipping behind, even though wages are up a modest 2.4%. Brainard is also concerned “the prime-age labor force participation rate, despite improvement this year, remains about 1 ½ percentage points below pre-crisis level, suggesting room for further gains.” Hopefully, some policy influencers will hear Brainard’s clarion call.
If that wasn’t enough to bust your bubble
There’s a global shortage of helium reported. Turns out helium is NOT just for party balloons, and making your voice sound like a cartoon character. Helium is used in MRI machines, automobile air bags and across the tech spectrum. “The shortage of helium which is present now — and which we can anticipate will increase — will affect, broadly, everybody,” says Northwestern physics professor William Halperin, as reported in USA Today. But denial is not just a problem with the FDA. USA Today contacted a broad range of companies across sectors, and all said they anticipate no problems with their helium supplies.
All three of the issues we’ve been talking about: tainted prescriptions, reduced middle-class buying power, and the helium shortage have one thing in common: Too few people perceive the issues, thus they’re not working on solutions. I think the biggest problem is no one thinks there’s a problem when it’s visible at the end of the block, nor when it’s barking at your door. It’s only a problem after it busts down your door.
It’s like the joke about the man who refuses all help in a flood. The sheriff comes by in an SUV and demands the man evacuate. The man refuses and says God will provide. He also turns away a boat, and finally a helicopter, and says God will save him. He is swept away by the rising water and dies. He arrives in heaven and asks, “What happened?” And God says, “I sent an SUV, a boat and a helicopter. What were you waiting for?” Sometimes the solution is as plain as the nose on your face, we just refuse to look in the mirror. Let’s not wait until thousands die of contaminated drugs, the middle class becomes the poor and we can no longer buy a balloon for a party to demand change. Demand our officials and private sector leaders do their jobs.
See our digital online version of this column for links to source material. Susan Knopf is a Summit County resident and a regular contributor to the Summit Daily.
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