Thursday, May 12, 2016

Prince & the nation that pees purple

I’m fairly certain I could write a compelling non-fiction book proposal about all the compelling non-fiction book proposals I’ve written that in hindsight seem prophetic.

In the past 10 years, I’ve composed book proposals about the acceleration of how words become words, the rise of demagoguery and how plastic surgery is re-defining all-American deviance.

I remain surprised none of them achieved lift-off.

The news today makes one seem particularly relevant. You’ll realize so just by the prospective title and the deliberately rambling sub-title. It is:

“The Nation That Pees Purple: A Real Trip Through the Physical, Psychological and Cultural Side Effects of America’s Love Affair* with Prescription Drugs.”

“*(anyone with erections lasting more than four hours should consult . . .)”

Back in ’11, I put a lot of time into this one because I was convinced of its commercial potential.


Had even one literary agent expressed any interest, I’m sure last evening I’d have been an expert panelist on CNN with Dr. Sanjay Gupta as he and Anderson Cooper hosted a town hall, “Prescription Addiction: Made in the USA.”

It used the Prince death as a hook to cover the problem that reaches every community in America.
So, I guess, it’s taken the death of one gifted celebrity to startle a nation that for years has been content with an epidemic that’s been killing godforsaken nobodies once every 19 minutes.

Understand, my prospective title about purple pee had nothing to do with Prince and his affinity for the color.

I chose it because it was illustrative and I’m fond of alliteration and colored urine is an odd side effect of many of the popular drugs prescribed today.

People taking phenolphthalein as a laxative can find purple urine in their toilet bowls. 

It may surprise regular readers of this blog who automatically assume the content means otherwise, but I’m adamantly opposed to prescription drugs.
Doctors, too!
It’s a confounding irony, but I think many Americans are being doctored to death.
But we’re simply awash in legal drugs. 
One of the nation’s leading forensic pathologists says America is becoming addicted to deadly candy. 

“These drugs are being dispensed like sugar-coated gum drops or pieces of chocolate,” says Dr. Cyril Wecht. “The numbers are truly staggering. Until this drug abuse is recognized and labeled for what it is -- an epidemic -- and dealt with as we’d deal with any epidemic, we will continue to see the death toll rise as it has each year.”

Wecht's analogy neatly fulfills the dream of Henry Gadsden who as the CEO of gargantuan drug manufacturer Merck said in 1982 his goal was to make Merck more like chewing gum manufacturer Wrigley’s. Why? So he could even sell drugs to healthy people. His dream now drives the marketing machinery of the most profitable industry on earth.

The pharmaceutical industry in 2010 earned more than $643 billion -- $100 million more than the total sales of the once vaunted U.S. automobile industry.

And why not?

Who needs a gas guzzler when there’s a really great trip waiting for you right behind the bathroom medicine cabinet?

And while I’m vehement in my opposition of consuming drugs, it’s unavoidable.

I get dosed — and so do you — every time we take sip of water.

The Associated Press reported in 2008 that nursing homes dispose of as much as $350 million worth of drugs each year. The study found that the drinking water of at least 51 million Americans contains minute concentrations from a multitude of drugs.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is studying the long-term effects of this epidemic of drug flushing might have on creatures who drink water, but they know what it does to creatures who swim in it: it turns boy fish into girl fish.

Fascinating. I think it would have been a fun book to write. I’m pasting sample chapters below today’s “Relateds …” if you’re interested in reading more.

And today the drip, drip, drip of leaks about Prince’s addictions continue. I’m sure in about a month or so we’ll get the full grocery list of all his prescriptions. It’ll be interesting to see if he exhibited any side effects in his Paisley Park home.

I’ll be curious if any of the drips and leaks reveal he was on any phenolphthalein.

Drips and leaks.

Talk about your purple rain.

Related …

The Nation That Pees Purple

A Real Trip Through the Physical, Psychological and Cultural Side Effects of America’s Love Affair* with Prescription Drugs

(*anyone with erections lasting more than four hours should consult . . .)

One Pill Makes You Larger
One Pill Makes You Small
And the Ones that Mother Gives You
Don’t Do Anything At All

Grace Slick, a direct descendant of Mayflower pilgrims and the first person to say “motherfucker” on live TV, wrote those words in 1966. She had to assure nervous buttoned-down radio programmers that the song “White Rabbit” was just her rockin’ tribute to “Alice in Wonderland.” It was controversial because even in an era renown for illicit drug use, referring to drugs on public airwaves still dominated by the likes of Pat Boone could lead to toxic consequences from outraged sponsors. So Grace had to be slick before securing her place in rock ‘n’ roll history.

More than 40 years later the majority of the TV program sponsors are the ones touting just how wonderful drugs really are. And they do so with the same kind of homespun themes that made shows like “The Waltons” so popular. A 2009 study by UCLA indicates that the average drug-drenched American is exposed to 18 hours of drug ads each week. New Zealand and the U.S. are the only countries in the developed world that allow direct-to-consumer prescription drug ads and the New Zealand parliament is considering banning the practice. It’s been 13 years since The Hatch Act allowed drug makers to flood the airwaves telling Americans about the benefits of prescription drugs.

The result is a nation that’s become addicted to quick pharmacological fixes for everything from love to male pattern baldness. UCLA researcher Dr. Dominick Froesch says: "We're seeing a dramatization of health problems that many people used to manage without prescription drugs," and that the "ads send the message that you need drugs to manage these problems and that without medication your life will be less enjoyable, more painful and maybe even out of control."

The Nation That Pees Purple

(Sample Preface)

It was one of America’s most harrowing evenings of the past 100 years. It was October 29, 2008, and America’s most trusted financial institutions were on the verge of total collapse. Freddie and Fannie were imploding. The subprime mortgage crisis was coming to a boil. AIG was collapsing. Bernie Madoff was dress rehearsing his perp walk. Top economists were fearful they might wake up the next morning and ATMs across the country would fail to distribute cash, unleashing turmoil unseen since the Great Depression.

To make it through the dark night, America would need steady leadership, wisdom and insight.

America would need 100 mg of barbiturates.

It found them in the sweaty palm of a Christian Scientist, a devotee of a sect that preaches against the sins of taking even aspirin to relieve mild headaches. The church was founded in by Mary Baker Eddy in 1866 after she used prayer and prayer alone to heal from a severe spinal injury suffered in a fall. The church she founded believes Jesus didn’t need a medicine cabinet to perform His miraculous healings.

On that fateful night, though, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulsen did. He was fresh from a day-long Capitol Hill grilling that left him distraught over the future and his ability to deal with the scope of the cascading calamities. 

Behind the mirror, Paulsen found a small bottle of Midazolam, a powerful benzodiazepine prescribed to depress an anxious central nervous system to ease panic attacks and allow sleep. Side effects include thoughts of suicide and respiratory collapse severe enough to be fatal in some cases.

Fearful that the world -- our world -- was collapsing all around him and desperate for a good night’s sleep, what did Paulsen do?

“I stood there under the harsh bathroom lights, staring at the small beige pill in my hand,” he wrote in his breathlessly titled 2010 memoir, “On the Brink: Inside the Race to Stop the Collapse of the Global Financial System.”

“Then I flushed it -- and the contents of the entire bottle -- down the toilet. I decided I would rely on prayer, placing my trust in a higher power.”

It’s not recorded whether or not the pharmaceutical assist helped anyone in his posh Georgetown neighborhood sleep any better during that turbulent time. 

Blue antibiotics, red hormones, purple painkillers, mauve sleeping pills and a rainbow array of drugs are being introduced by the tons into America’s water supply every night and day. The Associated Press reported in 2008 that nursing homes dispose of as much as $350 million worth of drugs each year. The study found that the drinking water of at least 51 million Americans contains minute concentrations from a multitude of drugs.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is studying the long-term effects of this epidemic of drug flushing might have on creatures who drink water, but they know what it does to creatures who swim in it: it turns boy fish into girl fish.

They’re called “endocrine disruptors” and they make fish change sex. Human sex change operations today require years of hormonal pharmaceuticals and intimate surgeries to reassign biological designations. So for those who are interested, drinking lots and lots of tap water might be more convenient.

But what about those of us are happy with our assigned sex and don’t want to go to the trouble of having to shop for a whole new wardrobe? Will we one day need to take drugs to maintain our current sex?

Scientists also worry that environmental exposure to flushed antibiotics might be making microbes drug resistant enough to become “super germs.” And what will we need when we have super germs? Stronger antibiotics. And what will happen when the super germs inevitably become exposed to the stronger antibiotics we will soon begin to dump? 

Even Christian Scientists are having trouble ducking all the drugs floating through our environment. 

Drugs have become like carelessly discarded chewing gum; it’s hard to walk down some sidewalks without getting some stuck to your shoes. That’s a dream come true to the late Henry Gadsden, the then-head of gargantuan drug manufacturer Merck, who in 1983 told Forbes magazine he dreamed of making Merck more like chewing gum manufacturer Wrigley’s.

Why? So he could even sell drugs to healthy people.

A 2011 report by Medco, the nationwide pharmacy-service company, found that from 2001 through 2010  one in five women over the age of 20 is on antidepressants; that men between the age of 20 and 64 had quadrupled their use of antipsychotics; and that anti-anxiety-pill prescriptions for kids 10-19 are up 50 percent over the past 10 years.

Clearly, America must be in pain.

There’s even an American Pain Foundation to confirm, yes, America’s hurting. Happily, the group does more than just signal there’s a problem. It also heralds a solution.

Take more pills!

The D.C.-based lobbying group describes itself as the nation’s largest advocacy group for people in pain. So when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released the news that drug overdoses kill nearly 15,000 people a year -- more than heroin and cocaine combined -- and that painkiller death tolls in some states exceeds that of car crashes, the Pain Foundation, reflexively said ouch.

The risk of drug addiction is overblown, it said. We’re not taking too many drugs. In fact, drugs are underused and drugs should be prescribed to treat things like addition to drugs.

What the group never revealed until in confronted in 2012 by ProPublica, an independent investigation group, was that it receives 90 percent of its $5 million funding from the drug and medical services industry.

At some point when no one was watching, America slid through the looking glass. A country that for more than 30 years has spent by some estimates $12 billion in a widely publicized War on Drugs, has collectively decided America is absolutely smitten with drugs. It is just trying to figure out whose drugs it loves the most.

Sample Introduction

The doctor’s office I suspected was staffed by zombies was proving difficult to kill. I can tolerate a lot of professional incompetence if it is delivered with a smile. Bumbling is one thing, but I draw the line at surly bumblers. That’s what was happening with Mom’s last doctors. They were terrible.

They were unfriendly. They acted like caring for our loved ones was a crushing inconvenience. The atmosphere in the office was poisonous, which I guess is good for business if to thrive you need a steady stream of sick people.

So I yanked Mom out there in July 2011 after finding a doctor who’s so country friendly I could pay him in chickens and he’d give me eggs for change. But the old doctors kept rising from the dead with tiny capsule-sized reminders they can’t be killed.

It was a rookie mistake, I know, but when the pharmacy called and said there were drugs to pick up, I didn’t question. I went, stood in line and paid $18.80 for Donepezil, $35.15 for Namenda, and $12.70 for Remembron. Don’t be fooled by the names that sound like pixie characters from Fairytopia movies: They are powerful pharmaceuticals used to improve Mom’s memory, ease her anxieties and help her snooze.

And none of them worked even a wee little bit.

But the old docs excelled at prescribing them. They were their Chicken Soup for the Soul if the soul is troubled by anything they can’t diagnose or fix. And they came unbidden. Long after I’d told the docs she was no longer their patient, the pills kept coming.

I realized my mistake when I got them home. I figured I’d take them back. I never got around to it. I must have carried them into the grocery store pharmacy five times and five times either got distracted or decided the line was too long. So after a month, knowing full well how this story was going to end, I called the pharmacist.

Can I return these? She’s not taking them any more, but her old doctor keeps sending them. They’re still in the stapled bags with all the receipts and tamper-proof seals in place.

“Sorry, it’s too late.”

Of course. That’s what I figured. Well, how can I dispose of them?

“You have bring in here. We have disposal bags for $3.50. That’s the only safe way to get rid of them.”

I hear lots of people just flush ‘em. Can I do that?

“No, that could harm the water supply.”

Can I dig a hole and bury them?

“No, sir. That’s environmentally unsound. You need to bring them in.”

I could see where this was going so I resisted the urge to ask if I could tie them to a really big balloon, line them up one-by-one on the train track or pack them in the Acme dynamite I remember seeing Wile E. Coyote use against The Roadrunner.

But I did have one more question about one way I could dispose of these dangerous and earth-slaying little toxins. Could I slug ‘em on down Mom’s throat?

“Uh . . . sure!”

But I’m not going to do that.

About a day after that conversation I learned Oct. 29 was National Prescription Take-Back Drugs Day. The DEA initiative aims to reduce the amount of prescription drugs that could fall into the hands of the more than 7 million Americans who abuse or are addicted to them. I blinked twice when I read the haul from the previous year totaled 309.

Not 309 pills.

309 TONS of pills.

And I’m left to wonder how they dispose of what must be four or five barge-sized-containers filled with unwanted pills when I can’t get rid of about 40 of them. Oh, well. It’s only 349 shopping days until the next take-back drug day. I guess I’ll have to wait.

If the knowledge that we live in such drug-saturated times dismays you, please get in touch.

I think I have a pill for that.


Our Deadly National Candy

Dr. Cyril Wecht, one of the nation’s leading pathologists, has said pills have become our deadly national candy. “These drugs are being dispensed like sugar-coated gum drop or pieces of chocolate,” says the man who has examined the evidence surrounding the prescription drug deaths of celebrities from Elvis to Anna Nicole Smith. One man’s fears are another man’s dreams realized. It was in 1982 that Henry Gadsden, the then-head of gargantuan drug manufacturer Merck, had a dream. He told Fortune Magazine he wanted Merck to be more like chewing gum manufacturer Wrigley’s. Why? So he could even sell drugs to healthy people. His dream now drives the marketing machinery of the most profitable industry in history.

Latanoprost: Don’t It Make Our Brown Eyes Blue

It was a broken heart that made country singer Crystal Gayle’s brown eyes turn blue in 1977. There are plenty of drugs these days to fix the sadness that comes with heartbreak, but only one that’ll correct what happened to Gayle’s cerulean eyes: Latanoprost. An odd side effect of this glaucoma drug eye drop is that it turns blue eyes -- and other colors -- a smoky brown. That’s not all. Beauticians are starting to recommend it because another side effect is -- voila! -- it makes eye lashes grow like Jack’s beanstalk. This from the website: “To date, there are limited studies that show how latanoprost works, but there is much encouraging anecdotal evidence that confirms it grows longer, thicker, eye lashes!” Later, the site warns: side effects include blurred vision, stinging and burning, eye itching, the unshakable feeling that something is in the eye, eye redness and the darkening of the eye color. The color change tends to toward brown and is likely permanent.” It is also known to cause herpes simplex keritisis, which may lead to some consumers feeling regret about looking for love in all the wrong places.

The Human Guinea Pig

Warren Sawyer is the most drug tested man in American history. The 75-year-old Moorestown, N.J., resident first began volunteering as a test subject for new medications and health-related products nearly in the 1950s. Since then he’s been injected probed and prodded in all sorts of experiments. Why? “I do it for the betterment of mankind,” he said. “I once chewed five packs of chlorophyll gum a day for four weeks to see if it caused any side effects.” He once spent a week with his rear end (mostly) taped shut to see if a newly developed adhesive that would be applied to diapers for bed-ridden patients would reduce painful bed sores. He is paid nominal amounts, but donates all the proceeds to charity. He’s so well known that he no longer needs to volunteer -- the big drug companies just call him. Steve Berchem, spokesman for the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America said, “If it weren’t for people like Mr. Sawyer, there’d be no new drugs. We need people like him and are grateful that people are lining up to participate in this sort of research.” Rodell intends to offer himself up as a human guinea pig.

Doin’ Drugs at the ol’ Drive-in: How Pills are Changing America’s Landscape

Latrobe, Pennsylvania, is home to three international icons: Arnold Palmer, Fred Rogers, and the banana split. I live here, too, in what is truly Mister Rogers’s Neighborhood. We spent a lot of time thinking about drugs in the past two years. That’s how long locals unsuccessfully fought drug conglomerate CVS from tearing down the beloved local drive-in theater to build its 7,219th store. It’s an odd fit in the town where in 1904 pharmacist David Evans Strickler invented the first banana split in old Tassel Pharmacy down on Ligonier Street. Today, Latrobe, pop. 9,327, has five big box drug stores. None of the new Latrobe drug stores serves anything involving nutritional fruit. The old soda fountain drug store is long gone, as are the values it represents. CVS is the second largest pharmaceutical chain in America now has more than 7,200 stores and had 2009 revenues of $55 billion. They and their rivals are now as ubiquitous as McDonald’s and billions and billions are being served. I’ve lived here 20 years and believe Mister Rogers’s real neighborhood offers as an insightful perspective on how drugs and the places that dispense them are changing the face of small-town America.

Patenting the Sun

They are among the most altruistic words ever uttered by any man of medicine: “There is no patent. Could you patent the sun?” That was the question Dr. Jonas Salk (1914-1995) asked in 1955 when he told the world that he’d found the cure for one of the most terrifying diseases known to man and he was giving it away. For free. It’s impossible for today’s parents to imagine the terror sweeping the country in 1952 when polio struck each summer. A contemporary PBS documentary said, “Apart from an atomic bomb attack, America’s greatest fear is polio.” The summer epidemic killed 3,145 and paralyzed another 21,269. Most of the victims were children. Today, pharmaceutical conglomerates specialize in patenting the sun. As Dr. Sharon Levine, associate executive director of the Kaiser Permanente Medical Group, put it, “If I'm a manufacturer and I can change one molecule and get another twenty years of patent rights, and convince physicians to prescribe and consumers to demand the next form of Prilosec, or weekly Prozac instead of daily Prozac, just as my patent expires, then why would I be spending money on a lot less certain endeavor, which is looking for brand-new drugs?” Today, rigid patent rights would make it impossible for Salk to give the cure away.

Gambling with Drugs: The Requip Suits

Free drugs cost Dr. Max Wells $14 million. The retired physician from Austin, Texas, began taking Requip, a drug used to treat restless leg syndrome brought on by Parkinson’s Disease, in 2004. One of the unusual side effects of Requip is an irresistible urge to gamble (makes ya horny, too!). Wells said the manufacturer failed to warn him about the side effect and soon he found himself with his elbows glued to the Vegas blackjack tables. He lost a fortune and blames it all on Requip. He says, too, the casinos were complicit because they let him gamble even though they knew he was on the medication. The suits are working their way through the courts.

The Holy Side Effects of Absolute Faith
Mary Baker Eddy founded an entire religous movement based on the conviction that Jesus didn’t have an HMO, much less a medicine cabinet. They believe material medicine and Christian Science treatment proceed from diametrically opposite assumptions: medicine asserts that something is physically broken and needs to be fixed, while Christian Science asserts that the spiritual reality is harmonious and perfect and that any belief to the contrary needs to be corrected. But does faith healing work? In many high profile cases, no. But in many more -- verified by confounded physicians -- cases involving spinal meningitis, compound fractures, blood poisoning and even cancer -- have been considered cured by diagnoses, follow-up medical examination or both. Side effect? An increasing number of religious devotees are joining a backlash against pharmacological solutions. They shun proven vaccines and some of their children are dying from diseases that have been cured decades ago.

Drug Names: What They Want You to Think They Mean
Would Viagra had been as much an orgasmic sensation if it had been named Sildenafil? Researchers studying how Sildenafil could be used to treat  hypertension and angina got, well, very excited when they saw evidence of what else it could do. It’s an excitement that lasted more than four hours. In fact, the drug is a touchstone phenomenon with billions in sales. But what about that name? They had a product with explosive potential. How to maximize it? It earned a team of naming experts more than $2.5 million. The letters “V,” “X,” and “Z,” are often featured in drug naming because they imply futuristic events. “V” in particular is considered powerful because the experts will tell you it suggests words like “vigorous,” “virile,” and “vagina.” Viagra, of course, rhymes with another thing famous for gushing power. Levitra conjures “lever,” “leverage,” “levitate” and things that go up. Well, what about Cialis? Naming experts say it works because “ciel” is French for sky or heaven. It implies wide open spaces. Then there’s weight-loss pill Reductil (reduce), arthritis-reliever Celebrex (celebrate with that magic “X”).

Divorce: The Viagra Side Effect More Harmful Than Those 4-Hour Erections
More than 25 million American men have taken Viagra and other ED drugs since they were introduced go and became one of the best-selling drugs in history. Intimacy experts say the biggest problem is that men take the drug without talking with their partners, making them instant Don Juans -- which their partner may not be prepared for. And sometimes, their improved self esteem sends them looking for new, more willing partners.  A report published by the Harvard School of Medicine titled “Sexuality in Midlife and Beyond” suggests the drug may help resolve relationship pressure caused by erectile dysfunction, but can cause other issues: "When intercourse is suddenly a possibility again, relationship issues can emerge or resurface, as can dramatic differences in libido. The bottom line is that couples should try to regard these drugs as an opportunity to renew their sexual relationship, while realizing that ED drugs are neither a mandate to have intercourse nor a panacea for every problem in the bedroom.”

When the Cure’s Worse Than the Disease: A Case Study
The three holy grails of a drug industry research involve weight loss, hair growth and super-charged sex drives. The makers of Xenical thought they’d scored a winner with a drug that proved effective in helping those reluctant to diet or exercise to lose weight. One problem: It caused people to suffer from what researchers called “fecal incontinence.” Yes, one of the ways they were losing weight was by crapping themselves. Rather than pull a promising money maker, the makers turned to marketing. Manufacturers began urging on websites promoting the product: “It's probably a smart idea to wear dark pants, and bring a change of clothes with you to work.”

The All-Pharma Cheerleading Squad
Some of the sexiest women who used to urge crowds to cheer for the Alabama Crimson Tide are now trying to get doctors to cheer for new drugs. The New York Times reported in 2007 that many of the major pharmaceutical companies canvass SEC cheerleader rosters and offer them more than $50,000 per year to become drug reps. None of them have any experience in the medical field and the only thing they have in common seems to be bright smiles, infectious laughs and great legs. T. Lynn Wilkinson is a cheerleader advisor at the University of Kentucky. He says he regularly gets calls from drug company recruiters looking for talent. “They look at pictures on Facebook and watch to see who’s graduating,” he says. “They don’t even bother to ask what their majors are. They are looking for people who can exhibit exaggerated motions, exaggerated smiles, exaggerated enthusiasms, and can get people to respond to what they want them to do.” One side effect: the number of respected doctors who’ve mistook friendly sales reps pitches for invitations to do more. One informal survey conducted by Pittsburgh urologist Dr. James McCague found that 12 of 13 drug reps said they have been sexually harrassed by physicians. He published his findings in the trade magazine Medical Economics under the title, “Why Was the Doctor Naked in His Office?”

Carts Before Horses: Inventing Diseases to Sell Drugs 
The millions pharmaceutical companies lavish each year on doctors isn’t to sell drugs. It’s to sell diseases. Adrienne Fugh-Berman, a professor of Physiology and Family Medicine at Georgetown University Medical Center and director of, has catalogued how pharma invents diseases so it can sell drugs. “The process of selling what industry calls a disease state begins many years before a drug is submitted to the FDA for approval,” she says. “Specific marketing messages for a product may be developed seven to ten years before a drug goes on sale. Pre-approval marketing messages assigned to opinion leaders might emphasize the _under-diagnosis of a targeted condition, stress the serious consequences of delayed treatment, or trumpet the importance of a new receptor or novel mechanism of action.” She says the classic way to expand a market for drugs is to invent a disease or exaggerate the importance of an existing condition. For instance, what if a consumer hears his or her stomach growling? She says drug companies will seize on the condition and invent a hypothetical disease like, say, CLASS (Chronic Loud Atypical Stomach Sounds), and note it could be a symptom of a serious disease that requires the attention of a physician. CLASS, they’ll say, can lead to overeating and obesity because sufferers may eat constantly to prevent audible stomach rumbling. Physicians are recruited to talk about the disease and the hazards of it going untreated.

Zambiens: Sleepwalker Horror Stories offers a trove of anonymous stories about Zambiens -- people who like the walking dead rise from their beds and to roam soullessly among us. Jane is a register nurse who turned to Ambien to help her sleep better. In January 2011, she took her first pill at 11 p.m. The eventual police report said that at 12:30 a.m. in 20 degree weather she got into her car wearing only a thin nightshirt and drove one mile before running a red light and causing an accident. When police arrived, she emerged bleeding from her car and urinated in the middle of the intersection. She got into a violent altercation with the police when they attempted to arrest her. She remembered nothing of the event and was bewildered when she awoke in jail. It took one pill on one night to erase an otherwise exemplary driving record. We’re starting to call it a PJAmbien DUI.” The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s 2007 National Roadside Survey, more than 16 percent of weekend, nighttime drivers tested positive for illegal, prescription, or over-the-counter medications. More than 11 percent tested positive for illicit drugs. Another NHTSA study found that in 2009, among fatally injured drivers, 18 percent tested positive for at least one drug (e.g., illicit, prescription, or over-the-counter), an increase from 13 percent in 2005. Pennsylvania State Trooper Steve Limani says the police have a name for when someone’s arrested for driving erratically while wearing bed clothes: PJambiens.

The Nation That Pees Purple 
Colored urine is a side effect of many of the popular drugs prescribed today. People taking phenolphthalein as a laxative can find purple urine in their toilet bowls. It may be upsetting to adults, but many children who take Elavil, an anti-depressant used to treat bed-wetting might be pleased to wake up early in treatments with the sheets stained vivid green. And those taking Dyrenium to treat bladder infections can pretend they’re the Tidy Bowl Man after the drug turns their urine blue.

The ADHD All-Stars: Bob Dylan and Your Favorite MLB Players
What if Bob Dylan’s parents had prescribed him Ritalin? On his “Theme Time Radio Hour,” Dylan speculated he had what doctors today would have diagnosed him as having Attention Deficit Disorder. He wonders about the children whose creativities are squashed by parents too eager to prescribe Ritalin and other behavior modifiers. With professional baseball players, being diagnosed with ADHD offers beneficial side effects. In 2009, Major League Baseball issued 106 exemptions for banned drugs because nearly 8 percent of its players have been diagnosed with ADHD. The numbers flabbergast the experts. “This is incredible. This is quite spectacular. There seems to be an epidemic of ADD in major league baseball," said Dr. Gary Wadler, chairman of the committee that determines the banned-substances list for the World Anti-Doping Agency. The side effect of exemptions maybe that some of our top baseball players are getting an unfair advantage by using PEDs. “I've been in private practice for a lot of years. I can count on one hand the number of individuals that have ADD,” he said. “To say that [7.86 percent] of major league baseball players have attention deficit disorder is crying out of an explanation. It is to me as an internist so off the map of my own experience.”

If Taken in Combination with Other Drugs, Murder May Result
Pittsburgh Police in March found prescriptions for 43 different psychotropic medications lawfully prescribed by 12 different doctors at the apartment of John F. Schick. Two days previously, Schick died in a shootout with police after a shooting spree in which he killed one and wounded five others. The site of his mayhem? The Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic of UPMC. Also found were manifestos railing against doctors he felt were misdiagnosing a variety of ailments, including erectile dysfunction. Numerous examples.

Sleepwalking Our Way Into War: Ambien Influence on the Iraq War
Did America sleepwalk into one of its worst wars? That may have been the case. In a 2003 interview, Colin Powell said he uses Ambien as an organizational aid and so did everyone else in the Pentagon and the State Department. “I wouldn’t call them a sleep aid. They’re a wonderful medication -- not a medication. How would you call it. They’re called Ambien, which is very good. You don’t use Ambien? Everybody here uses Ambien.” That might explain his somewhat muddled answer. What are the national side effects of our top decision makers advocating using powerful sleep aids with dangerous hallucinogenic side effects? In 2005, 26.5 million prescriptions for Ambien were written in the United States alone, totaling $2.2 billion in sales. Comic Mike Adams’s take on the phenomenon: “I used to think all politicians were on crack. Now I realize it’s Ambien.”

Could Dr. Drew Have Saved Elvis?

A roll call of the dead: From Elvis to Whitney Houston, we’ve lost hundreds of celebrities to pre-mature death related to accidental pharmaceutical drug overdoses. What are the side effects of a Hollywood culture where prescription drugs dominate the culture and what would Dr. Drew have done to save Elvis?

The Only Successful Drug Big Pharma Fears: The Placebo

Drug researchers are eager to learn why in test after test, the most successful pill in history is the one made from sugar and milk. It’s the placebo. Half of all drugs that fail in late-stage trials drop out of the pipeline due to their inability to beat sugar pills. That’s what happened in 2002 with a highly touted Merck pill known as MK-896. In press interviews, Merck’s research director Edward Scolnick said the anti-depressant was key to the company’s future. “To remain dominant in the future, we need to have a pill that will dominate the central nervous system. That pill is MK-896,” he said. In fact, that pill might be the placebo. Prior to clincal tests, MK-896 appeared to be every pharma exec’s dream drug: a new kind of medication that exploited brain chemistry in innovative ways to promote feelings of well-being. The drug tested brilliantly early on, with minimal side effects, and Merck touted its game-changing potential at a meeting of 300 securities analysts. But behind the scenes MK-869 was starting to unravel. True, many test subjects treated with the medication felt their hopelessness and anxiety lift. But so did nearly the same number who took a placebo. The fact that taking a faux drug can powerfully improve some people's health—the so-called placebo effect—has long been considered an embarrassment to the serious practice of pharmacology. It’s not that drugs are getting weaker. It’s that the placebo effect is getting stronger. Why? And what does this mean for the drug industry?

The Suicide Pill: Are Happy Side Effects Holding It Back?

Most any adult caring for a senior has heard the poignant lament: why isn’t there a pill that will let me just end it all? What’s surprising in our drug-drenched society is that there isn’t a suicide pill when there seems to be a pill for everything else. Everything except suicide. Yet suicide is an unintended side effect of many of the many pills we take for so many other things. So why isn’t there a suicide pill? It’d likely be very profitable and profit seems a primary motive of the entire pharmaceutical industry. Could it be that the unintended side effects of a developmental suicide pill is it is leading to thoughts of happiness and too many love-ready erections? Or is it just basic economics? You can’t sell any more pills to anybody who’s taken just one truly killer pill.

Side Effects A to Z -- 100 Top Selling Drugs & Their Side Effects

This will be a straightforward index of drugs and what can happen to those who consume them. Will include how much each drug earns per year, what it’s for, and how many users experience the side effects. Examples:
Accutane: 2011 earnings, $320 million; Used to treat severe acne, but if taken by pregnant women can lead to children born without limbs.
Zolpidem: $2.5 billion; used to treat insomnia; side effects include increased impulsivity relating to the libido, increased extrovert behavior.

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