The agency meant
wedded to special
interests and the
bottom line is
neither health nor
By Thomas G. Whittle
and Jan Thorpe
or weeks, the worlds attention riveted on a single-car crash in a Paris tunnel and its aftermath.
In the painful search for an explanation for the cause of the tragic death of the Princess of Wales, various and disparate reasons were offered, including paparazzi chasing, beside or in front of the car, photographers blinding lights, the excessive speed of the vehicle, and the lack of seat belts. In short, a possible combination of factors.
As investigation of the matter proceeded, a clearer picture emerged, one hidden from view until blood tests were completed.
The driver, Henri Paul, had been on three drugs, two of them prescription medications. One of those pharmaceuticals was a psychiatric drug already linked to more harmful reactions than any substance in the United States Food and Drug Administrations adverse reaction reporting system.
A search for toxic chemicals in the blood revealed therapeutic levels of a medication whose active ingredient is fluoxetine, the Paris prosecutors office stated. Fluoxetine is the main ingredient in the antidepressant Prozac.
Dr. Michael Craplet, a French expert, noted that the antidepressant compounded the effects of alcohol the driver had taken and, combined with the speed of the car and the stress, increased the risk of accident one thousand times.
How this evidence will be evaluated in terms of accountability is in the hands of the prosecutors office and, eventually, the courts which will consider the matter. That it forces an examination of the dangers of legal drugs is beyond question.
It is an examination long overdue. And similar tragedies here in the United States lead to deeper questions concerning public health.
Police searching the Bel Air estate of movie producer Don Simpson after his 1996 death discovered thousands of tablets and pills lined up neatly in alphabetical order in his bedroom closet.
They also found evidence of their use: Simpson overdosed on a combination of 21 drugs. And they learned that over the preceding three years, Simpson had obtained his drugs some 15,000 amphetamines, sedatives, tranquilizers and others from 15 doctors and eight pharmacies. Thus life ended at age 52 for the co-producer of such popular films as Top Gun, Crimson Tide and Beverly Hills Cop.
Everybody understands how lethal street drugs like heroin are, but it takes a prescription overdose by someone famous like Don Simpson to drive home the fact that pharmaceutical medications are just as deadly, said Steve Simmons, a senior investigator for the California Medical Board.
A federal criminal investigation is in progress into the deaths of Simpson and his physician friend, Stephen Ammerman, found at Simpsons estate five months earlier with a lethal level of morphine, antidepressants and other drugs in his body. A civil lawsuit against several individuals, including psychiatrist Nomi Fredrick, who prescribed drugs to Simpson under an alias, is also pending.
High profile legal drug tragedies continue to mount. After Australian rock superstar Michael Hutchence of INXS died in November in an apparent suicide, his songwriting partner Andrew Farriss attributed the death to Prozac and alcohol. In December, actor and comedian Chris Farley died after a four-day drinking and drug-taking binge, and here again Prozac was present.
Yet legal drugs have never been marketed to the public at large more vigorously. Hundreds of millions of dollars in advertising from drug makers are now making their way to broadcast and cable television networks thanks to a federal government policy announced August 8, 1997 which allows companies to plug their drugs direct to the public without having to detail their side effects while millions already routinely read print ads touting prescription drugs in magazines and newspapers. It is time to examine the issue of legal drugs in our society, said Dr. John Sommers-Flanagan of the University of Montana.
America today is awash with prescription drugs, used legally and illegally. The Drug Enforcement Administration estimates that about $25 billion in prescription drugs were sold on the street market in 1993. Many billions more were consumed within the law.
According to a U.S. government survey, prescription drug abuse is comparable to or worse than abuse of cocaine, crack cocaine or heroin. Indeed, more Americans had abused prescription drugs in the month prior to the survey than cocaine, crack cocaine and heroin combined.
The agency vested with authority over the billions of dollars worth of legal drugs produced each year is the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), founded in 1928. Through the years, it has grown in power and jurisdiction, particularly in 1938, after some 600 children died from a sulfa elixir. The concoction included diethylene glycol, selected by a chemist because it had a sweet taste. It was also highly toxic the same substance is today widely used in antifreeze.
Mandated to be both gatekeeper and traffic cop for the drug trade, the FDA determines whether substances can be produced and distributed, and authorizes their dosages.
The real story of the modern FDA is not its crusade against tobacco, a substance whose health effects are widely known. It is the agencys tolerance of the false and misleading promotion of psychotropic drugs substances which poison the body and which can and do kill with little or no warning.
In cases like that of Don Simpson, it is obvious that the flood of these drugs is out of control so much so that the FDAs oversight system must be seriously questioned.
As writer Greg Critser described it, the American health-care system each day is devoted less to the art of medicine and more to the delivery of pills. And here the FDA, the supposed drug traffic cop, warrants closer inspection.
FDA-Approved Substances Hit the Streets
Drugs promoted by major manufacturers often wind up on the street, bought and sold like any other illicit substance. The pattern isnt new: Heroin, notorious for the hundreds of thousands it has enslaved, was for years widely promoted by Eli Lilly and Company for medicinal purposes a treatment for coughs.
Ritalin, an amphetamine-type drug, received its final approval from the FDA in 1955. It has, for many years, been administered to schoolchildren across the country with the FDAs blessing, promoted through medical journals and major marketing campaigns.
Freedom conducted numerous interviews of addicts and others familiar with Ritalin as a street drug. You catch a lot of guys running around with a whole bunch of sores, like syphilis, all over their bodies, said one. It opens up your pores and you have welts all over your body. It looks like pus, gangrene. Ritalin does that.
Another said, You can tell Ritalin users because their hands and feet swell up and they get sores on their arms and legs.
Ritalin, like cocaine and methamphetamines, is a central nervous system stimulant. And, like those two drugs, it is classified as a Schedule II narcotic.
Today, along with the other deadly substances it resembles, Ritalin is one of the most widely abused street drugs, taken by tablet or injected.
Demerol and Dilaudid, FDA-approved but addictive painkillers with a heroin-like effect, also fetch big prices on the street.
Pushers get up to $100 a pill for Dilaudid, known as drugstore heroin; there always seems to be an illicit supply, despite FDA controls.