Thursday, September 8, 2011

Medicine: Good, or Right?

Sometimes I part with medical science, especially when it comes to their business model. I know I am not the only one who feels that pharmaceutical companies invent illnesses, diseases and conditions for the sole purpose of selling us a “cure.” Even when a problem exists, over-diagnosis is quite common.

The classic example in my lifetime has been ADD, ADHD, or whatever the hell they’re calling it this week. This is a disease whose treatments magically change to coincide with when patents run out. It’s clearly a scam. And yet, if you say so publicly, you always get at least one person, usually a relative of someone “suffering” from a lack of attention, who will call you a monster for suggesting people are “faking it.”

Make no mistake: I don’t think people “fake” ADD. Well, that’s not true, I know some do, but those are drug users who want whatever speed derivative they’re prescribing these days to treat this imaginary malady. But there are people who legitimately cannot pay attention, who have genuinely no interest in the ridiculous world we have constructed for ourselves, who I would say are the ones who see through the charade.

A few people I have known with “ADD” are the most perceptive people I know. Sure, some are basically a line of drool away from riding the short bus, but many are very bright and are simply interested in things beyond the realm of what we as a society imagine to be important.

But what I perceive to be the biggest group in this category are those I would call “low achievers.” In this day and age, with families having only one or two children, the prospect of one of your kids being below average is just not acceptable to some parents. And yet, news flash: half of the population is always going to be “below average.”

Understand this basic fact: there will always be those who fail, no matter how hard they try. We as a society should come to accept that fact, and to provide a means for those who don’t succeed to go on trying again.

The reason parents can’t bear to think of their children failing in America is because in America, failure is perpetual. We have the worst social safety net in the developed world. The uninsured are burdened with crippling debt when faced with just one medical emergency (medical debt accounts for over half of all personal bankruptcies).

Ultimately, this is why I find myself harboring anger for the medical community. In America, medicine is a business, and a sleazy one at that. Take another disease concocted by the medical community, depression.

Let me clue you in: depression is not a disease. “But it’s chemical…” So is attraction, and you could inject yourself with the hormones necessary to cause yourself to fall in love. But the fact is, if you aren’t, then you shouldn’t be.

If you’re depressed, there’s a reason, and its root is not in your genes or any sort of chemical imbalance. Well, again, that’s not always true; some forms of depression are dietary, so eating different things (like foods containing various B vitamins) may actually alleviate the problem.

But while Americans have a horrible diet, I think it’s fair to say that the epidemic of “depression” is not food-based. Maybe it is… I wish it was, but I doubt it. I think it’s societal.

How can you look around America and not be depressed? It’s so bad, I think we should diagnose happiness as a disorder. If you look around and you’re pleased with what you see, there’s something seriously wrong with you, and I think you need to be medicated, or at least on some sort of three newspapers-per-day regimen, or maybe some sort of surgery, like performing a craniectomy on your colon.

I say this now, but when Pfizer comes out with Mizerol, and GlaxoSmithKline introduces Cynix… I’ll probably change my tune. [Note to those naming drugs: always include letters from the end of the alphabet, because those letters evoke a sense of “this is scientific stuff.”]

And yet, I’m not anti-medicine. Medicine saves the lives of countless people every year. I just hate to see something as beneficial as medicine be associated with hucksterism. To me, medicine will never be a commodity, it is always a right, and America just denies the right of medical treatment to the poor.

It is sickening, really, because we as a nation treat those who are behind bars better than we treat those who obey the law, but are down on their luck. Even terrorists in Guantanamo Bay get treated better than Americans who are poor. For some reason, we see why we must treat prisoners (and we must, if we wish to continue pretending we are a civilized country), but we can’t seem to wrap our heads around the fact that those who are struggling to earn a living legally need the same assistance.

We are truly a sick society.


  1. Funny, when discussing ADD options with my brother for his child, I suggested that the treatment with the fewest side-effects should be used because we made up the disease, so we should get to make up the cure.

    I agree that medicine can suppress this personality trait. He argued that it is a chemical imbalance, which forced me to point out that all of our personality can be adjusted by adjusting chemicals in our bodies.

    Our mind does this naturally. When you are afraid you may sweat. You may get chills and your heart races. When you are shocked, you may get light-headed. When you are embarrassed, you do tend to sweat. When you are very aroused, you get jittery. The mind controls the chemistry. Conversely, the chemistry controls the mind.

    Therefore, it is reasonable to assume that traits that can be treated with chemicals can likely also be treated with therapy (meaning teaching one how the mind works and allowing the student to make a conscious effort to make corrections). It has been shown in study after study, for example, that happiness is partially learned, partially chemical. Additionally, those who study and understand the anatomy of anger, lose much of their anger. Those who study and understand happiness, find greater happiness.

    Studying the mind alters the chemistry.

    Once we truly appreciate this, ADD chemical treatments don't seem like the only option. If someone wants to suppress a personality trait, they can attack the chemicals or the psychology allowing it. They can even attack the problem by defining it as a trait and concentrating their efforts toward self-improvement elsewhere.

    That said, I do acknowledge that if the trait is severe enough, it should be addressed. However, drugs should not be the final solution. If you have gall stones, you may take ibuprofen, but that does not fix the gall stone issue. We have two levers we can pull: drugs, something that temporarily suppresses the personality trait, and psychology. One of the two does not run the risk of destroying your liver and, though slower, provides a permanent solution.

  2. How can you look around America and not be depressed? It’s so bad, I think we should diagnose happiness as a disorder.

    I have actually argued that happiness is a chemical imbalance, and thus a disorder. It so happens that it is a good one.

  3. I've got a child who was diagnosed with ADHD at the age of 4. We did years of behavioral therapies, and finally put her on the meds because her behavior was having such a severe impact on her life (she wasn't failing--her grades were fine. She just hit every kid and teacher who annoyed her. And couldn't sit still long enough to eat). She's on the generic version of a medicine that's been around for 50 years, so there have been long-term followup studies of kids who took these medicines for years, and we're satisfied that this medicine is safe.

    The medicine didn't change her (basically happy and creative) personality, nor did it magically fix her behaviors overnight. It just calmed her down enough for the behavioral therapies to work, and gave her the ability to keep friends (and not have her parents perpetually furious with her). Which, for an elementary school girl, is a huge impact on her life.

    I used to think ADHD diagnoses were something of a scam to let underperforming kids get extra time on their SATs. Then I had a kid with ADHD.


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