Michael's essay: Why would anyone ever risk taking any of the drugs advertised on TV?

"As I listened to the litany of awful things that could happen, I thought, I'll take my chances with the disease, thank you very much," said Michael Enright.
Why would anyone ever risk taking any of the drugs advertised on TV, like this one featuring a cowboy pitching an "almost painless catheter," asks Michael Enright. (YouTube/Medical Direct Club)
Listen3:32

The old wrangler looks a bit like Willie Nelson as he stares into the camera.

"Been a cowboy for 25 years," he says, explaining all his physical woes. "I've broken a lot of bones, so I know about pain. And I don't want any more of it — especially when I catheter."

Two things. I didn't know catheter was a verb and second, not the kind of thing I want to think about over morning coffee, especially when he mentions the name of the product he is flogging — the Almost Painless Catheter.

Somehow the "almost" doesn't help things.

But the people who make the Almost Painless Catheter say you'll be up and singing Streets of Laredo in no time; perhaps in a slightly higher than normal register.

If you watch U.S. daytime television and the dozens of drug ads therein, you might come away with the impression that either Americans are the sickest people on earth, or a nation of raving hypochondriacs.

Unlike in Canada, U.S. television channels are flooded with ads about any kind of drug you can imagine. Some may cure you, some may kill you or lead you to commit suicide, according to the grim recitation of possible side effects.

As I listened to the litany of awful things that could happen, I thought, I'll take my chances with the disease, thank you very much.

But for self-medicators, it's good to remember that sometimes the cure is worse than the disease.- Michael Enright

For example, Humira, which is used to treat conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis and chronic psoriasis.

Possible side effects include allergic reactions, convulsions, diarrhea, possible heart failure or "certain fatal events."

Or what about Entyvio, which treats gastrointestinal problems?

Taking this drug could lead to serious allergic reactions which can happen during or after treatment. It may increase the risk of infection which can cause a serious event leading to a very rare, but serious brain infection from a virus.

Then of course, there is Tremfya, which promises the patient clearer skin.

On the down side, it may lower your ability to fight infection and indeed may increase the risk of infection. Liver problems may also occur.

Later, I read a column by Andre Picard, the outstanding medical writer for the Globe and Mail, in which he said that taking the small "baby" Aspirin every day to avoid stroke and heart attacks, could lead to intestinal bleeding.

I've been taking the baby Aspirin daily for years.

In most countries, pharmaceutical companies peddle their drugs directly to doctors. Only the U.S. and New Zealand allow them to advertise directly to patients.

The upside to the commercials is that they do fully inform viewers of every possible side effect.

And of course, it's entirely possible, even likely,  that you could take any one of the advertised medications and not experience any noxious or dangerous side effects.

But for self-medicators who watch these commercials, it's good to remember that sometimes the cure is worse than the disease.

Click 'listen' above to hear Michael's essay. 

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