Thursday, August 29, 2013

From milligrams to kilograms (February 12, 2009)

When one considers how many pharmaceuticals the people of our nation ingest on a daily basis, it's hard to imagine just how much of these chemicals we take into our systems over time. We measure drugs in milligrams but throughout our lives all those little pills and capsules add up. Imagine what a solid block of Fluoxetine (better known by its trade name of Prozac) would look like, equal to the weight of every milligram a typical depressive ever took or will take throughout their lifetime. Then imagine taking a big bite out of that block. That's essentially what we do with our medications. Only we swallow a tiny bitter pinch of the chemical in the form of a tablet or capsule. Instead of chewing it like a nasty tasting piece of candy. Maybe that's why we don't think about it. We "take" pills, we don't "eat" them.

A few years ago, I decided to save all of my pill bottles to get an idea of the sheer volume of medication I took over that period. I wasn't sure what I was going to do with those bottles (as well as some leftover meds from old prescriptions that I also decided to hold onto [nothing narcotic]). Then I thought perhaps I could make a short film of myself contemplating this very thing. But to make it a bit more interesting, I decided to list all the drugs I took, their dosages as well as the specific instructions written by my "prescribers" (does anyone see an actual doctor anymore?). For the most part, the instructions are pretty typical, but there is one interesting note you might want to look out for.

I chose not to use the trade names of these medications for a couple of reasons. I didn't want anyone to think I was endorsing a drug from a particular pharmaceutical company. They do enough advertising in magazines, TV, the internet and even in our clinics and doctors offices. Ever notice that the pens and notepads at your local clinic are pimping one drug or another. The drug companies give away these freebies to hospitals and other medical facilities as a form of not-so-subliminal advertising. Everyone needs to write notes. These "gifts" are useful and gladly accepted by the staff. Of course, eventually, a patient is going to ask, "So, just what is (trade name) for?" Then the doctor or nurse tells them and if the drug-makers are lucky, that patient might say, "I think I have that." And a new prescription is written.

I also chose to use the chemical names to remind us that these are in fact chemicals we're ingesting, Not food or herbs. These things do not occur in nature (except for the Niacin, of course). They are designed by chemists in laboratories. And these names don't just represent a simple concoction of ingredients. They are the names of the very molecules that are created to perform a specific function in our bodies. And since no two bodies are exactly alike, multiple chemicals are developed to do the exact same things in different ways.

I want the viewer to know that I am not against the use of prescription medication. I take a number of different pills for different reasons (they're all in the video, though most of them I no longer take) but I am concerned about the overmedication of our country. I cringe at every commercial I see for a new prescription medication for insomnia, erectile dysfunction or an affliction that seems just plain made up. These commercials used to end with "Ask your doctor." Now they end with "Ask your prescriber" because most people don't see doctors anymore for their general care. They see Physician Assistants or Nurse Practitioners. I suppose for basic medical care, that's okay (These people also work for less money than doctors) but should we really be putting them in the position of treating their patients like guinea pigs for some new drug that just got cleared by the FDA for whatever obscure syndrome the pharmaceutical companies have convinced us is afflicting the nation at epidemic proportions? Does your average NP or PA know enough about all these new "legitimate" designer drugs to competently predict how they'll interact with their patients' other medications or are they just going to write a scrip because their patient saw a commercial and is convinced that they have all the symptoms the drug companies told them to look for? It worries me.

The film ends with a poem I wrote in 2007 about how annoying taking all those drugs can be.
Also, my dog, Philip makes a cameo.

Update: January 16, 2015

In 2014, I produced a remake of sorts of this film titled "Excursus."