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Drugs, the Illegality of Healing and Pharmageddon

Drugs, the Illegality of Healing and Pharmageddon

by Sayer Ji, founder of GreenMedInfo.com

To most of us, the word “drug” conjures varied, if not diametrically opposed images and connotations. On the one hand, “drugs” are illegal substances, associated with addiction, bodily harm, crime, and other unpleasant experiences. These drugs include cocaine, amphetamine, marijuana and heroin, and are generally not considered to have medicinal effects. On the other hand, prescribed or over the counter “drugs” are associated with treating or preventing disease, regulated by the FDA and administered legally to the public in carefully meted doses by doctors. No matter which way you slice it, Americans have the most voracious appetite for drugs on the planet, consuming approximately 700 billion dollars worth of prescribed, over-the-counter and illegal drugs, annually.

The distinction between these two meanings of the word drug may hold hard and fast from the perspective of politics, the law, media imaging and ordinary parlance, but not necessarily from the perspective of biology and pharmacology. Take amphetamine, for instance. Although amphetamine is one of the most addictive and metabolically poisonous drugs found on the street today and responsible for thousands of deaths a year, it is approved by the FDA for the treatment of attention deficit disorder, weight loss, depression and narcolepsy in branded forms such as Adderall, Ritalin and Dexedrine. Marijuana, on the other hand, which has an extraordinary safety profile, and which has been studied for decades for its extensive medical applications, remains illegal throughout the United States and is not approved for prescription as medicine. Politics, economics and social prejudices are the primary reason why certain substances attain approval or disapproval as drugs, not the inherent nature of the substance itself, as one would expect in a civilized society.

The difference between a “good” and a “bad” drug can depend entirely upon the social context within which a chemical like amphetamine is ingested. If acquired on the street within the context of the drug dealer/junky relationship it is a “fix” (albeit self-medication, no matter how misguided). If ingested upon a doctor’s request for a diagnosable disorder, it is considered “medicine.” The former context is socially sanctified; the latter is socially vilified. Ultimately, neither situation can transcend the fact that amphetamine will only offer temporary relief from whatever emptiness or imbalance the drug was supposed to fix or cover up. Nothing within the amphetamine itself will address the underlying food allergies, nutritional deficiencies, emotional issues that may be causing the deficit in attention, sluggish metabolism, inability to sleep or depressive emotional state. In fact, long term amphetamine use is notorious for causing the very thing that it would temporarily remedy: suicidal depression, exhaustion to the point of sudden death, inability to focus, etc.

In some cases the street form of a drug is actually safer than its prescribed form. For instance, the synthetic opioid known in prescription form as Fentanyl is 40 times MORE powerful/addictive than heroin. However the main point of this article is not to decompose the rather essential boundaries that exist between “good” and “bad” drugs, as without them, society as we know it today would drift into greater chaos. Rather, we are going to focus on the way in which the positive sense of the word drug as medicine has been effectively removed from the grasp of foods and dietary supplements – as far as the FDA is concerned – forever.

According to the FDA’s legal definition of a drug, anything that “diagnoses, cures, mitigates, treats, or prevents a disease” is defined as a drug. The problem with this definition is that there are numerous substances, as readily available and benign as found on our spice racks, which have been proven to mitigate, prevent and in some cases CURE disease, and which CAN NOT be called DRUGS according to the FDA. How can this be? Well, the FDA has Godlike power insofar as it has to grant a healing substance its official approval for it to be considered to have legitimate application in the treatment of disease. And historically the FDA has required very expensive clinical studies (approximately $100 million per drug) which are out of the grasp of any interest who might want to demonstrate the efficacy of a non-patentable and therefore unprofitable herb, food or spice.

If Hippocrates, the founder of modern medicine, were alive today, he would be forced to qualify himself by saying: “Seek FDA approval for permission to let food be thy medicine.”

The common kitchen spice Turmeric is a perfect example of this extraordinary hypocrisy. Although one can find over 200 biomedical citations on PubMed (pubmed.gov) discussing Turmeric’s ability to cause apoptosis (programmed cell death) in cancer cells, it has not received the FDA’s approval as a drug in the treatment of cancer. With over a million cases of cancer diagnosed annually in America, wouldn’t it be sensible for the FDA to approve the use of a substance with such extraordinary scientific backing and consensus on its effectiveness AND safety? And if not as a pimary chemotoxic treatment, than at the very least as an adjunctive therapy? Sadly, the likely reason this miraculous substance has not been made available to cancer sufferers today is because it can be grown in one’s back yard for free!

Here we have the fundamental point. The FDA’s definition of a drug is not descriptive, but is a persuasive definition which purports to describe the “true” or “commonly accepted” meaning of a term, while in reality stipulating a meaning that serves only the interests of the drug companies it so spinelessly serves. If an herb can not be converted into a proprietary, profitable, patentable commodity, it will forever be barred from attaining the legitimacy of a “drug,” no matter how effective it is at treating disease. When drug companies do manage to produce an extract of a whole herb, they almost invariably make the same fatal error: they equate the healing force of the whole plant with only certain decomposed isolates or ‘mono-chemicals’ found within this living, infinitely complex totality. Even worse, they tinker with these isolates to ensure that they are unique enough to derive a patent, with the unfortunate outcome that the new chemical analogue is now biologically unprecedented. This folly results in profound side effects and toxicity, and serves only one objective: to ensure the 20 year market exclusivity that a FDA awarded patent affords. One can play God by isolating and reproducing facsimiles of a component of a complex living organism such as Turmeric.

But the isolate will never compare to the safety and healing power of the whole herb, produced by Mother Nature Herself; rather, it is more likely to behave like Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein, with uncontrollable and violent side effects.

And this is another key point: Mother Nature does not grant patents, even though her formulas are proprietary. She will never lend herself to rampant profit making and outlandish claims, nor will she make the mechanism of her healing perfectly intelligible vis-à-vis the scientific method. It is commodity and profit driven medicine, with its underlying emphasis on perverting the scientific method to serve economic objectives that concerns itself with patent exclusivities, hyperbolic claims and profit as an end unto itself. Rather than lament this fact, I have decided to celebrate it. If whole food supplements, herbs and vitamins are forever exiled from the would-be legitimacy of the allopathic pharmacopoeia, then so be it! This can not obviate the healing gifts that issue prolifically and freely from the Lap of Nature herself; nor does it negate that birthright of health which we all participate in, knowingly and unknowingly. Rather, this exclusion of what works and is right, and good, from the compass and concern of orthodox medical principle and practice, is an indication of a complete failure in credibility of the allopathic system as a whole, and which has earned it its disgraceful nickname: the Disestablishment. Until food is allowed to be considered medicine once again, orthodox medical can not rightly claim to be interested in healing disease. Thomas Edison left us with a sage premonition of a possible future that may still remain within our grasp, when he wrote:

“The doctor of the future will give no medicine but will interest his patients in the care of the human frame, in diet, and in the cause and prevention of human disease.”

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Abuse of Xanax Leads a Clinic to Halt Supply

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Gayle Mink, a nurse practitioner at a community mental health center here, had tired of the constant stream of patients seeking Xanax, an anti-anxiety drug coveted for its swift calming effect.

It is such a drain on resources,” said Ms. Mink, whose employer, Seven Counties Services, serves some 30,000 patients in Louisville and the surrounding region. “You’re funneling a great deal of your energy into pacifying, educating, bumping heads with people over Xanax.

Because of the clamor for the drug, and concern over the striking number of overdoses involving Xanax here and across the country, Seven Counties took an unusual step — its doctors stopped writing new prescriptions for Xanax and its generic version, alprazolam, in April and plan to wean patients off it completely by year’s end.

The experiment will be closely watched in a state that has wrestled with widespread prescription drug abuse for more than a decade and is grasping for solutions as it claims more lives by the week. While Kentucky and other states have focused largely on narcotic painkiller addiction, experts say that benzodiazepines, the class of sedatives that includes Xanax, are also widely misused or abused, often with grim consequences.

While the patients at Seven Counties are mostly poor, experts say the appeal of Xanax cuts across socioeconomic lines. Alprazolam was the eighth most prescribed drug in the nation last year, according to SDI, a data firm that tracks drug sales. Even more than the figures suggest, Xanax has become part of the popular lexicon, as well known as a panic antidote as Prozac is for depression.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last year reported an 89 percent increase in emergency room visits nationwide related to nonmedical benzodiazepine use between 2004 and 2008. And here in Kentucky, the combination of opiate painkillers and benzodiazepines, especially Xanax, is common in fatal overdoses, according to the state medical examiner.

Seven Counties is not the first health care provider to cut off prescriptions for controlled substances — at least several others around the country have stopped giving patients certain opiates and benzodiazepines — but the practice remains contentious. Some doctors say that refusing to prescribe certain drugs under any circumstance is overly rigid, noting that Xanax helps many people who use it responsibly.

“What they’re doing is a noble idea,
” said Dr. Laurence H. Miller, who heads a committee on public and community psychiatry for the American Psychiatric Association. But he added: “I could never say never to anything. There are some people who may have done very well on it, are on a small dose and manage their lives on it, and that’s probably O.K.”

But Dr. Scott Hedges, senior vice president for medical services at Seven Counties, said he felt certain that Xanax did not need to be among the options offered there.

“The literature strongly suggests there are lots of really good ways to treat panic and anxiety disorders without using this particular medication,”
Dr. Hedges said. “And the risk to the community, if we continue to use this medication, is very high.”

Xanax poses a particular risk for abuse and withdrawal, doctors say, because its effects are felt almost immediately, but last only a few hours. Users often quickly want more, experts say, and as their tolerance builds, they want increasingly higher doses.

Dr. Hedges said that while Seven Counties bore some blame for prescribing Xanax in the first place, many patients initially got it from primary care doctors. Alprazolam is one of the three most-prescribed controlled substances in Kentucky, along with hydrocodone and oxycodone, according to the state’s Cabinet for Health and Family Services.

“We pick these folks up way down the road,
” said Dr. Robert Caudill, a Seven Counties psychiatrist, “where they’re already on a big dose and don’t want to give it up because they’ve been given no skills along the way” for otherwise dealing with panic and anxiety.

For people dependent on opiates, Xanax can be especially alluring because the fear of withdrawing from the opiates is so huge. After someone has experienced opiate withdrawal, Dr. Caudill said, “they really are scared to go into it again because it’s so horrible.”

“They will panic,
” he added, “literally.”

At Seven Counties, some of the roughly 3,000 patients who were on Xanax have been switched to clonazepam, a longer-acting benzodiazepine that does not kick in as quickly and is thought to pose less risk of addiction.

“They don’t get the high that’s associated with Xanax,
” Dr. Hedges said, “nor the withdrawal associated with it.”

The eventual goal is to wean patients off clonazepam, too, he said. People with severe anxiety should ideally take an antidepressant as well as a benzodiazepine, he said, and learn coping mechanisms with cognitive behavioral therapy.

The doctors and nurses at Seven Counties have encouraged patients on Xanax to consider these options in addition to clonazepam or instead of it. But the transition has been cautious and slow, Dr. Hedges said, with Xanax doses generally being reduced in half-milligram increments over a number of months.

“It’s a very slow and intentional process of weaning down,
” Dr. Hedges said, “precisely because we don’t want to create all this anxiety and panic over, ‘Well, I’m not going to get it anymore.’ ”

After the policy change was announced in March, everyone from the doctors to the receptionists at Seven Counties anticipated some tense moments as patients got used to the idea. It was not lost on them that a doctor in rural eastern Kentucky was shot to death by a patient in 2009 after refusing to prescribe a painkiller.

Indeed, some transitions have been rough. Tina Graham, 44, a Seven Counties patient who suffers debilitating panic attacks, said her anxiety had sharply increased after switching from Xanax to clonazepam this summer. Clonazepam helps for about two hours after taking a pill, but for much of the day, she said, “I’m scared to do anything.

“I’m not saying I have to be back on Xanax,”
Ms. Graham said. “But if this ain’t doing it, something’s got to change.”

But Dr. Hedges said that such complaints had been relatively few, with about 90 percent of the patients who were taking Xanax already off it.

“We haven’t had any episodes of violence, any acting out or difficult behavior in our clinics,
” he said. “We tried to prepare for that, but in fact it hasn’t happened.”

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