She was the youngest daughter of my aunt Margeret, and of my rather large extended family in Texas and Lousiana, I would say that she was one of the closest to me. She was young - just 42 - talented, educated, pretty, vivacious and happily married, or at least she was several years ago before she underwent surgery for back problems that went tragically wrong and left her wheel-chair bound and in cronic constant pain.
In order to alleviate the pain her doctors gave her steroids. The steroids as hoped, built up the strength in her muscles to compensate for the weakness in her back, but also caused her to gain weight and prompted the on set of diabetes. The constant care requirements, midnight runs to the pharmacy for insulin, helping her in and out of her wheelchair, and I sadly supposed her weight gain - made on her husband eventually prompted a seperation and left her alone while their daughter attended school.
She died as a result of an insulin overdose that divebombed her blood sugar to dangerous levels.
Her husband was grief-struck and threw himself on her deathbed, remaining there crying for the next two days after her body had been taken away by the coroner.
Pretty tragic story.
My own wife has suffered a broken back a few years ago. Doctors have said that it was inoperable and that she would basically have to live with arthritic pain in her back for the rest of her life. She can't work at a normal job because she can't lift more than 15lbs, and can't stand or sit for hours at a time as would be required for retail or office work. I have to admit, after years of this I had - like my cousins husband - sometimes grown short and exasperated with the constant demands of the situation. Her incessent groans and moans even from the simplest movement now cause me to roll my eyes in impatience. I was getting callous, that is until I nearly broke my neck three weeks ago playing basketball. I went up - another player went down - and I hit the ground, shoulders, head and neck first legs on top of me. For nearly a second or so - I lost all feeling and control of my limbs - my arms flailed like a rag-doll's.
Fortunately for me - the effect was temporary and I was up on my feet in a few minutes - with only some painfully bruised ribs to show for it. Pain that severely limited my movement, caused me to moan and groan at the slightest shift, I could hardly walk, couldn't sit up - couldn't lay down -- just like my wife. Three weeks later I'm better, but still in pain. I'm a little less callous now.
As it turns out neither she nor I are wheelchair-bound like Joannie - she hasn't undergone steroid therapy, but not so fortunately she was prescribed Vioxx earlier this year for her arthritis.
She's a person who has a very sensitive immune system. She's allergic to penicillin, as well as all sulpha derivatives. As a kid she was stung by a brown recluse spider and almost died when the doctors unwittingly injected her with 'cillin based anti-biotic. It was because of her allergies that she wasn't prescribed Celebrex for her pain, but instead was given Vioxx. She's like a canary in the coal mine when it comes to questionable medicines, and her reaction to Vioxx was quite immediate and dramatic. Loss of breath, high blood pressure, heart palpatations.
At the time I brought up the various problems with the American Pharmacutical industry with various friends. They're in the business of selling their product, not neccesarily helping people. If people get well, and don't need their medicine - profits go down, so they have to help people believe in their own helplessness - in their own weakness - their own sickness and how they need more and more artificial help. At the time they scoffed at my railing at the dangers and illogic of direct marketing of prescription drugs to potential patients.
"Think you might have a problem? Irritable? Can't Sleep? Warts? Ichy Scalp? Bad Breath? Scabs over your eyes? Bleeding Palms? Limp Dick? -- talk to your doctor about (fill in the blank miracle drug). And as long as you don't mind a little diarrhea, sexual side-effects, flaking, stomach-upset, projectile vomiting and hair loss - you should be fine."
In my view, this country is tragically over-medicated and completely underserved by it's medical community.
Congress just recently slipped language into a budget bill that allows for schools to psychologically test children without parental consent. It's already true that children who are "fidgety, over-active and disruptive" can be forced medicated with ritalin if their parents want to keep them in school. Now this.
Merck, the maker of Vioxx was considered a "good guy" drug company. They voluantarily decided to pull the drug off the market without any government intervention or trial lawyers taking them to task. But the truth is - neither the government or those oh-so-greedy lawers could do so because all of the studies which were showing an indication of increase risk of stroke and heart-disease in connection to Vioxx happened to be the intellectual property of Merck Corporation and were protected by Non-Disclosure and Copyright Law. It's the same method that the tabacco industry was able to hide the fact that nicotine is additive for 30 years. The FDA couldn't release these reports to Congress without violating the law, even assuming that Merck had actually made all unfavorable reports available to the FDA, which they aren't required to do. Still these reports and studies did exist, and apparently the latest information is that nearly 28,000 people who had taken Vioxx for pain relief have consequently suffered either strokes are heart-attacks.
I have to say this doesn't surprise me at all after my own wife's reaction to the drug. She - wisely - stopped taking it after a few days.
As I've looked into and listened to reports, particularly on NPR, about this I've seen that the entire process of validating a drug for use is grossly flawed. Studies are commissioned and paid for by the company attempting to advance the drug to market - the results are owned by that company. Negative clinical trial results are suppressed, positive results are hyped in the various Medical Journals in order to impress their miraculous results upon doctors working in the field. The Physicians who write these Journal reports are essential bribed to write what the drug companies want them to write.
We have problems with drugs such as Paxil being prescribed "off-market" to children, which completely dodges the normal FDA validation process, and these children are having increased incidents of suicide.
We have problems with the FDA failing to recognize the clear shortage in flu vaccine, that countries such as England were easily able to compensate for.
Yesterday, the Supreme Court heard arguements regarding the Constitutionality of Federal Officers seizing Medical Marijuana that was not being sold in commerce, when State Law allows it. It's amazing to me that after eleven states have allowed for the use of Marijuana and Cannabinoids for medicinal purposes that neither the FDA nor any drug company has yet to do any serious clinical trials to either confirm or deny that many claims that this treatment has shown to be beneficial for pain management, appetite, glacoma and the nausea of chemo therapy. In the late 1990's, former U.S. drug czar General Barry McCaffrey, who was staunchly determined that marijuana was a dangerous drug commissioned his own study to prove it, but instead found that there was numerous apparent medical benefits of Cannabanoids. In short, they found that Marijuana was far less addictive than cocain, heroine or the nicotine in cigarettes and that the primary danger it presented was from the process of smoking itself (just like tabacco).
Drug companies who are more than happy to sell us 15 versions of pain medication which are virtually the same chemically, have not been willing to get into the process of selling cannabanoid based medicines simply because - In my opinion - they can't retain the intellectual property rights on such a drug. Pretty much anything they can do marijuana in a lab, someone can probably do just as well in their backyard and kitchen.
They can't make any money on it.
So Marijuana is illegal and considered a "dangerous drug" although to date, no one has ever died of a "weed overdose" -- meanwhile 28,000 victims later Vioxx is finally off the market.
How many victims did it take for Phen Fen?
How many will it take for Paxil?
Where's my effing flu shot? (Not that I would take it, I never take flu shots -- I would rather get the flu and build my immunity up naturally)
Call me crazy, but I really don't think this current process and FDA is working in the best service of the American public and their health.
I would suggest a massive change of direction from this administration that thinks that government and trial lawyers are the enemy, that oversight of corporations is "stiffling" to business and the repeated ethical scandals that continue to hammer the stock market are just minor "blips", but that horse already left the gate on November 2nd and we won't get another chance for four years.
Heaven help us all, particularly my cousin Joannie and so many others who try to survive in similar situations, in the meantime.