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Here’s hoping the new FDA head has bigger worries than cold medicine

Submitted by on Tuesday, 13 January 2009 4 Comments

I was one of those parents today. The kind the U.S. Food and Drug Administration gets verklempt about every autumn as it considers, yet again, banning kiddie cold medicine. The kind of heartless momma who drugs her babies so she can sleep.

There wasn’t much of that going on early this morning. I turned the lights out at 2, and it wasn’t long after that a parade of crying guys made it to my room, a snotterfall trailing behind.

So when we woke for the fourth time — this time because we had to, not because someone’s nose was clogged — I poured two shots of Dimetapp. I expected the cold-medicine police to haul me off in handcuffs. “I’m sorry, guys,” I’d apologize tearfully as Child Protective Services carted them away as well. “Mommy only wanted you to be able to breathe.”

Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know. There’s no proof cold medicine works for children. Use natural remedies, experts say – humidifiers, saline drops, fluids. Except I’d already gone through those and we were still zombies this morning.

The Foot-Dragging Administration this fall rejected a ban for children through age 6, though it promised to study the issue more. It’s the second round of studies.

Which makes me wonder: Don’t they have anything better to do?

I already know the answer to that. I’m hoping whomever Barack Obama settles on as Foot-Dragging commissioner does, too.

There’s melamine and heparin from China and toxic plastic. Food labels so inaccurate there might as well be a huge question mark on the can. Scientists so frustrated with what they say is intimidation and coercion that nine of them wrote Obama’s transition team and pleaded for change. Accusations of coziness with the drug industry.

Both leading candidates for the job are physicians and reformers, though they come at it from different angles.

Joshua Sharfstein – yes, the guy pushing the cold medicine ban – was only 24 when he was published in the New England Journal of Medicine, criticizing the American Medical Association’s political contributions, according to The Baltimore Sun. He’s gone after lead in cosmetics and candy. He’s a former congressional staffer who currently holds a policy-making position as Baltimore’s health commissioner.

Steven Nissen, head of cardiovascular surgery at the Cleveland Clinic, has taken on drug companies and won.  He was the first to link Vioxx to an  increased risk of heart attacks and strokes, and his research showing serious flaws in FDA work halted an experimental diabetes drug, according to CNN.com.

He’s called for complete transparency in the FDA’s relationship with the drug and criticized the agency for sometimes delaying disclosures of potential dangers based on claims that “proprietary information” is at stake, the Wall Street Journal said.

The good news: The drug industry is worried about both contenders, according to the Wall Street Journal, because they have “affected FDA policy and corporate bottom lines.”

And neither man would have to even get out of bed in the morning to improve FDA leadership. Remember, this is an agency so riddled with serious problems that its scientists are asking Obama for better bosses.

My money’s on Sharfstein, but my heart wants Nissen. It’s not as if Sharfstein is soft on drug-makers, but Nissen has a better track record.

Drug companies and their relationship with Washington is an issue that goes way beyond the FDA. Changing the game of government footsie is going to be key in any successful health-care reform legislation.

Yes, Sharfstein’s fought over-the-counter manufacturers and won, which is why cold medicine is no longer on the market for babies.

But Nissen’s fought Merck, Bristol-Myers Squibb and GlaxoKleinSmith.

I like that. I like that a lot. A whole lot better than living in fear of another four years of choking on the Dimetapp while swallowing the Vioxx.

Copyright 2009 Debra Legg. All rights reserved.

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  • Joann Betschart said:

    Hey Debra … now it’s Vick’s VapoRub: http://is.gd/fO8G

  • Debra said:

    Gee and my mom used to stuff that stuff up my nose all the time when I was a kid. Hmm …

    There’s definitely shades of the cold-medicine problem on this issue, too. The label clearly says, don’t use for children under 2. Parents do it anyway, and soon someone’s going to start clamoring for a ban. Ay!!

    Read the directions, folks. Pretty please.

  • Genevieve said:

    Good grief — I remember that stuff slathered on my chest, under my nose and on my feet as a kid.

    I recently wore it like a thick mustache with hopes it would help me sleep — it didn’t, but nothing was going to.

    The directions clearly state not for children under 2. They have a separate, milder, version for that. At least they did.

    Now instead of kids taking cold medicine — we’re supposed to buy five different bottles of meds specific to one condition. So runny nose and to help them sleep, Benedryl. Fever, Tylenol or Motrin. So on and so forth — I wonder how many max you should be mixing and at what point do you screw that up and hurt the kids because some meds act like bleach and ammonia when mixed.

    I don’t know if they do, but just sayin’.

  • Fred said:

    Debra, I know putting a hot pack on a young child is hard to do, but the hot pack will do more to alleviate cold symptoms than anything else you can do.

    The principle is this, cold viruses die above 107F degrees. So really hot is not the answer, but time with the heat is.

    Good luck