John Grindrod: Hoping the effects beat the side effects

While we’d never ingest any liquid if, on the back of the bottle, it read, “Harmful if swallowed,” can the same be said when we rely of the medications that come with greater frequency as we age compliments of Pfizer, AbbVie Eli Lilly and the rest of the big pharm folks?

More and more, that question occurs to me, especially while watching the nightly news, when so many of the commercial breaks are filled with pharmaceutical ads.

The commercials generally tend to follow pretty much the same script. There’s a vignette showing folks doing really fun stuff, as in grilling out or picnicking, dancing to live music, going to concerts or participating in sporty activities and such. During the narrative touting the wonders of whatever the lab coats have concocted about products such as Shyrizi, Astepro or Sotyktu, the drugs seem wondrous, that is until the end of the spots when those side effects are stated by Mr. Announcer Guy.

As for why so much advertising is geared toward big pharm in between what David Muir and Lester Holt and their reporters have to say, well, like all successful marketing, knowing which time slots to advertise is vital in reaching a target audience. Nielsen numbers tell us that the core viewership of network news is comprised of us, ahem, more mature folks.

Now, when it comes to the medications I see advertised, what always intrigues me are those side effects at the ends of the spots. While my brain tells me that the companies that manufacture the drugs are thinking of the potential litigation if consumers aren’t warned of any and all potential results from taking a medication, I’m still amazed at the lengthy list of what could happen.

Some side effects seem manageable to me, such as some dizziness, some soreness in the back or a bit of congestion, in other words the conditions that periodically manifest themselves anyway.

But then there are those that are, frankly, quite alarming. Recently in my ongoing battles with an erratic blood pressure, something that has been an unwanted companion for the past 15 years or so, my family doc started me on a new combo of medication, Losartan and Hydrochlorothiazide, which came with almost four full pages of consumer information, half of which were side effects.

The side effects started with references to the potential for allergic reactions that included rashes, hives, blistered or peeling skin, wheezing, tightness in the chest and throat in addition to troubles with breathing, swallowing and talking.

The potential troubles listed also included blood in the urine, abnormal heart beats and electrolyte problems like mood changes, confusion, stomach pain and vomiting and seizures.

Reading on, I saw on the list swelling of the arms and legs; yellowing of the skin and eyes and eye problems; skin cancer and eye problems that could lead to blindness. Truth be told, I’m not really a fan of any of that subset.

When I finished the list, my first thought wasn’t even a word, as in wowsers! And, this medication is going to be part of some solution?

I’ll leave you with one pharmaceutical product I see advertised on TV that positively mystifies me, not because of its side effects but for its efficacy. The product isn’t a pill, rather a home testing unit.

If you’re unfamiliar with the product, it’s intended to screen in a noninvasive way for colon cancer, which eliminates all that nasty prep that’s required before a colonoscopy can be performed by a physician. To date, I’ve had four colonoscopies and can attest each time that that day-before prep is far worse that the actually procedure, which has been totally painless every time.

When I saw the product first advertised, of course, I was intrigued. Frankly, the thought of never again enduring all the fasting and drinking of that vile number-2-inducing concoction titillated me, that is until I heard the disclaimers at the end of the ad. While there were none of the many dire potential reactions I’ve heard about pills, there was something that completely ruled out my ever using the product as a substitute for the real deal that Doctor Howard Solomon has performed so skillfully over my years.

Mr. Announcer Guy slips in at the end of the commercial the fact that false positives and false negatives may occur. Hmmm, so you’re trying to sell me a product that may tell me I’m OK when I’m not or one that may tell me I have cancer when I don’t? Seems to me there’s a problem here.

Yes, indeed, waiting for that other pharmaceutical shoe to drop can be quite alarming.

John Grindrod is a regular columnist for The Lima News, a freelance writer and editor and the author of two books. Reach him at [email protected].