26 February 2009

Do not, do not, do NOT do this

Hi from down the rabbit hole, readers (is there an echo?) — I am deep into a chapter and not surfacing much. Therefore, I'm once again behind in my reading, and so just stumbled across this from last week: a New York Times article called out by Liz Borkowski on the excellent public health blog Pump Handle.

The NYT story — which ran in the New York regional section and thus may not even have made it (on paper) out here to the Great Flyover — is primarily about young adults going naked on health insurance, what happens when that goes wrong, and how they practice a kind of do-it-yourself medicine to cope. But what made Liz's hair stand on end (and mine, now that I've read it), is the way that the characters describe taking each other's unused antibiotics:
Nicole Polec, a 28-year-old freelance photographer living in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, said she has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and has a client who procures Ritalin on her behalf from a sympathetic doctor who has seen Ms. Polec’s diagnosis. Ms. Polec’s roommate, Fara D’Aguiar, 26, treated her last flu with castoff amoxicillin — “probably expired,” she said — given to her by a friend. (Byline: Cara Buckley)
You all got what was going on there, right? Flu — or even a cold — is a viral illness. Antibiotics don't work against viruses. But antibiotics taken inappropriately do contribute to the evolution of drug-resistant bugs everywhere, and do make you more vulnerable to such bugs if they wipe out your own protective bacterial flora.

(NB: Let's be clear, by criticizing this, I do not at all mean to be unsympathetic to the plight of the uninsured. My brother, a film composer, has been uninsured his entire career; as a freelancer, I have insurance only by the generosity of my in-all-ways-excellent spouse. And, just to editorialize, I consider it an international embarrassment that, what, one-sixth? of our population lacks the ability to pay for their health care. But there are things that are smart to do, in coping with the unworkability of the American health care system, and there are things that are not smart. Under-dosing and self-mis-dosing are, categorically, not smart.)

If you have time, please go read Liz's analysis, it's very good. If you don't, please just listen to this take-away message: DON'T DO THIS. (Sorry to shout.)

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