Archive for Saturday, September 22, 2001

Promotions help drive up drug costs

September 22, 2001


Back in the 1960s when I was a nurse, pharmaceutical detail reps never brought us lunch. They visited doctors, and we made a few minutes' time in the physicians' busy schedules to hear about new drugs and get samples for patients.

There were no TV ads for prescription drugs. Doctors learned about the medications and decided what would be best for the patient. If you suggested something, you were told right quick who went to medical school.

Now my daughter is a nurse and works in a big clinic. Often I invite her to lunch and she says no, the drug reps are bringing lunch for everyone. The entire clinic staff in her area alone is about 300 people. Multiply this by all the clinics and doctors' offices around the country, and it's a lot of money!

Ads and free lunches are driving up the cost of medications, so seniors have a hard time paying their bills. All those doctors and their staffs should be ashamed to let their gourmet appetites and lust for presents come before their patients.

Free staff lunches, dinners for doctors, speaking fees and trips to luxurious locations all drive up the cost of medicines. So do commercials on TV that encourage patients to ask for powerful prescriptions that might or might not be appropriate. We share your concern.

I'm a small-boned woman with osteoporosis. My doctor started me on Fosamax, but I really couldn't handle the horrible heartburn. When my doctor heard about that, he took me off it right away and said it could be dangerous.

Now I have a prescription for Evista. I have read that this medicine can cause blood clots and am nervous about that, since I once had a serious clot in my leg after a fall. Is Evista safe?

I have friends taking estrogen for osteoporosis, but I went through menopause 20 years ago and have never taken hormones. Is it too late for estrogen to help me?

A recent study has shown that estrogen can reduce bone loss and improve bone mineral density even when women don't start taking it until they are past 75. So we don't think it is too late for estrogen to help you.

The risk of blood clots is similar with estrogen and Evista (raloxifene). This serious side effect is not common, but women should know the warning signs. Ask your doctor whether low-dose aspirin would help prevent such clots.

We are sending you our "Guide to Estrogen: Benefits, Risks and Interactions" and "Guide to Osteoporosis," which provides greater detail on Evista and Fosamax. Anyone who would like copies, please send $3 in check or money order with a long (No. 10), stamped (57 cents), self-addressed envelope to: Graedons' People's Pharmacy, No. WU-52, P.O. Box 52027, Durham, N.C. 27717-2027.

I have been plagued with canker sores for a year. An article I read said that sodium lauryl sulfate in toothpaste is a common trigger. I have switched to baking soda, and the canker sores are better. But the taste is awful. Can you recommend anything else?

A double-blind study in Sweden showed that avoiding sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) in toothpaste can help control canker sores. A few toothpastes are formulated without SLS, a foaming agent. They include brands you might find in a health food store, such as Weleda Pink and Peelu. Rembrandt Whitening Toothpaste for Canker Sore Sufferers is another option.

My sons and their friends think it is cool to wear loafers and sneakers without socks. When they hang out at our house and watch TV, they like to take their shoes off. Does the room smell!

I doubt that you or anyone could convince these guys to wear socks. I've given up trying. But maybe you could tell us how to control the unbelievable foot odor.

You're not the only one trying to cope with this problem. Another reader wrote: "My sons had the worst problem with stinky feet when they wore shoes without socks. We fought the shoe odor by sloshing rubbing alcohol around in the shoes and dumping it out. We rotated the shoes every-which-a-way. Then after we dumped the alcohol, we set the shoes in front of the refrigerator exhaust (where the warm air blows) to dry. The alcohol dried faster than water and didn't damage any shoes we used it in."

We can't promise that alcohol won't damage shoes, but that is one approach we hear frequently. We are sending you our "Guide to Smelly Feet," which has other suggestions for this problem and a variety of remedies for athlete's foot. Anyone who would like a copy, please send $1 with a long (No. 10), stamped, self-addressed envelope to: Graedons' People's Pharmacy, No. F-2, P.O. Box 52027, Durham, N.C. 27717-2027.

I've had head lice for weeks and have tried RID, Nix and Vaseline to get rid of them. The lice disappear for about two days and then return.

I'm single, so I do the best I can to remove the nits myself. Please help! How common is it to have resistant head lice?

No one knows how prevalent resistant lice are, but a Harvard study showed that this is a real problem in some parts of the United States.

For resistant lice, suffocation with Vaseline works, although the nits must still be removed. Did you leave the petroleum jelly on overnight? Removal of the jelly is a messy business, made a little easier with mineral oil or baby oil.

Wetting the hair with vinegar can facilitate nit removal. A vibrating nit comb called MagiComb might also be helpful.

You might try a product made with essential oils called HairClean 1-2-3. Lice have not yet developed resistance to the coconut, ylang-ylang and anise oils in this preparation. It is manufactured by Quantum. If you can't find it at your local drugstore or health food store, you can order directly by calling (800) 448-1448 or by going online at

My husband recently started taking ground flaxseed in his orange juice every morning to lower his cholesterol. We read about this in a newsletter, but we have just read in a different newsletter that flaxseed oil might promote the growth of prostate tumors. In that publication, the recommendation was to substitute fish oil for flaxseed oil.

My husband has an enlarged prostate gland but no cancer. Can you shed some light on what he should do?

Researchers from Duke University recently published a study in the journal Urology (July 2001) showing that flaxseed helped normalize prostate cells that looked suspicious under a microscope. It is too soon to know whether flax can prevent prostate cancer, but it is promising.

We'll be watching for further research to clarify this confusing issue. In the meantime, your husband could feel confident using fish oil or eating fish several times a week, as it does help protect both the heart and the prostate.

-- Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist. Teresa Graedon holds a doctorate in medical anthropology and is a nutrition expert. Write to them in care of King Features Syndicate, 235 E. 45th St., New York, N.Y. 10017, or e-mail them via their Web site,

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