Essays & Images on Cities, Travel and Contemporary Culture. A web journal of James A. Clapp, Ph.D., an UrbisMedia Ltd. Production

Vol.6.5: Is this a Great Country, or What? Part II

Anti-drug poster from side of Hong Kong police station.  ©1997, James A. Clapp

Anti-drug poster from side of Hong Kong police station. ©1997, James A. Clapp

Ask Your Doctor


In Hong Kong, where I have spent some time in recent years, doctors are not only permitted to write prescriptions, they are also allowed to act as their own pharmacists and sell you your medicines.   Detect a possible conflict of interest here?   Well, one of the results is that Hong Kong people are probably the most over prescribed users of antibiotics in the world, running the risk of becoming immune to their effects.   They take them for just about everything.   So when an infection sets in from one of those notorious Asian-spawned viruses one day, there may be nothing in the antibiotic arsenal to fight it.   It could be a pandemic waiting to happen.


Doctors can’t do that in the USA.   But “Big Pharm,” the drug companies, have other ways of enlisting them in turning us into a nation of junkies.   Just “Ask Your Doctor.”   That’s the mantra repeated ever more frequently on television and other media these days.   You may be sitting there watching people be jerks on your favorite reality show and feeling pretty good when on comes a commercial telling you that maybe you don’t feel so good, or could feel even better if you just “Ask Your Doctor” about some medicament made by Big Pharm and given a fancy Madison Avenue name, like Celebrex.   Now ain’t that a cause for “ cele bration.”   They’re great at coming up with clever names.


How about Vioxx (“Ask Your Doctor”) Clairitin (“Ask Your Doctor”), Prilosec (“Ask Your Doctor”), Viagra (“Ask Your Doctor”), Zyrtec (“Ask Your Doctor”), Soma (“Ask Your Doctor”), Zantac (“Ask Your Doctor”), Pravachol (“Ask Your Doctor”), Paxil (“Ask Your Doctor”) Zoloft (“Ask Your Doctor”) Chloricidin (“Ask Your Average Teenager”)   THG Steroids (“Ask Barry Bonds”), Vicodin (“Ask Rush Limbaugh”), etc. etc.


The problem with these drugs is that you have to ask your doctor because often the commercials for them do not tell you what ailments they are for.   The commercial just show people happily dancing, playing, or giving each other romantic looks after presumably taking these preparations.   Their names are designed by focus groups to be remembered,   and sound benignly “medical,” not to be descriptive.   (Wouldn’t names like Sneezarrest, Flexin, Poopejex, Ouchbegone, Styphynit, and Chilloutin be more descriptive?)    So you know what you have to do, right: “Ask Your Doctor.”


Or, Ask Your Lawyer.   Because if Big Pharm neglects to tell you that there may be some “contraindications” to the goodies they are pushing they could be liable (although their lawyers get paid a lot more than your lawyer) if you have some nasty side effects.   So in (very, very fine) print, or right on TV they will warn you: not to take their drug if you are pregnant or nursing, have glaucoma, have diabetes, have recently been in a coma, have recently been in a Toyota Corolla, have high blood pressure, have a GPA below 3.0, have had a psychotic episode (or seen a psychotic episode of The Sopranos), have voted for Ralph Nader, have jaundice, red rashes, blue veins, or mauve drapes.   They caution you that you may feel dizzy, drowsy, feverish, poorly, out-of-sorts, or deep regret for taking this medicine; you may experience dry mouth, hot flashes, chills, sexual excitation, a desire for pepperoni pizza – and this could happen all at once – in which case you should immediately contact your physician or Pizza Hut.   You should not use this medicine is you intend to operate heavy machinery, a Hummer, or nail clippers, go sky-diving, put any appendage down your garbage disposal, or program a VCR.   You should not . . . “We’re interrupting this list of precautions to bring you a breaking news report that President Bush will ask Congress for legislation to deter high school athletes from using performance-enhancing drugs . . .”   Now back to: if you experience double vision, you should cover one eye and continue to read these precautions.   You should not use public transportation, or work near an open flame if you experience excessive flatulence from this medication.   If you feel any of these conditions might be life-threatening you should immediately . . .


Yah, we know:   “Ask Your Doctor.”


Reluctantly, I pop a few pills each day myself.   There are some things that people must take for their ailments.   But they could probably feel a lot better if they just watched less television.

©2004, James A. Clapp (UrbisMedia Ltd. Pub. 3.13.2004)