July 17, 2003 (Ira Pilgrim)

Hair and Drugs

"I have this medicine that will grow hair on a billiard ball."

"What would I do with a hairy billiard ball?"

Very very old joke

There are only two countries in the industrialized world that allow the advertising of prescription drugs: the United States and New Zealand. Drug advertising is as profitable for the drug companies as cigarette advertising is for tobacco companies. It also accounts for much of the cost of prescription drugs. It may be just as dangerous to the consumers of their products as tobacco is.

There used to be a TV commercial for Rogaine. The actor has a head of hair that a sheep dog would be proud of. Would you like to have a head of hair like that? If you don't already have one, forget it. Hair like that is hereditary. If you don't have hair and want it, you can buy it in a wig store. Rogaine won't do it.

I started loosing my hair at age 15. To a fifteen year old, baldness, like pimples (zits), is a major disaster. My mother believed, as does the Upjohn Drug Company, that the person to solve such problems is your friendly family physician.

Apparently my physician also saw himself as able to cure everything, so he wrote a prescription for something that I was to rub into my scalp three times a day. I suspect that he might have known that it wouldn't do any good, but when a patient asks for help, a doctor should always give him a prescription.

I followed instructions religiously. Result? Nothing! My barber was a lot more honest than my doctor when he told me that the best way to save my hair was in a box. He knew that when your genes tell you something, you listen whether you want to or not. I got the baldness gene from my bald father.

I did all of the foolish things that people do who go bald, such as combing hair across the bald spot; which made me look even more bald and ridiculous. It was Yul Brunner who showed me, and lots of other men, that bald can be beautiful.

I'm now very comfortable being bald. If I wasn't, I would get a wig. Unlike medicines, wigs do work, even though some of them would look better on a pedigreed dog than on a man. More important, that TV newscaster would look a lot better, and more honest, without the rug. Would you believe someone who was hiding behind a mask?

What troubles me more than the hair-grow scam is the growing trend in prescription drug advertising. I fully expect that the next step will be "ask your physician about morphine for your pain" or "ask him about Achromycin for your infections". The reason that morphine will not be promoted is because anyone can manufacture it and it's relatively cheap; there isn't enough profit in it. The same thing is true for Achromycin, because generic equivalents are available for less money.

Heck, if you're going to tell your physician what to prescribe, why not do it the way they do in some third world countries where you can buy any drug over the counter if you know the name of it and can afford it.

Prescriptions are required for certain drugs because they are dangerous if not properly used. If the whole prescription system is undermined by the drug companies, we would be better off eliminating prescriptions and with it the exorbitantly high price of advertised prescription drugs.

If the medical profession doesn't do something about it, they will be told by their patients, not just the drug detail men, what to give their patients for almost any disease. As an imaginary patient said to her doctor, "My friend Mrs. Bloom had a stomach ache and her doctor made her better with a prescription. Why can't you give me some medicine instead of taking out my appendix?"

This advertising of prescription drugs shows what terrible things can happen if you legalize a drug. It happened with tobacco, wine, beer and other alcoholic beverages. People will be propagandized to use the product.

The terrible thing is not the drug, which can be quite useful, but the pushers who will try to convince people to spend their money on it. As we all know, the money is the main thing that drug manufacturers are interested in. You don't have to believe me; just ask any AIDS victim how much his drugs cost.

Drug companies have set a very high standard for the purity of their product. However, that's more than can be said for their motives or their advertising.

Next column

Return to the Medicine Home Page

Return to Ira's Home Page