While I’m not quite arrogant enough to believe that the federal government implements policy at me personally, sometimes it sure feels like it, and the FDA’s most recent “recommendations” certainly fit that bill.
As I’ve mentioned in a previous article, I have Crohn’s disease. It’s an autoimmune disorder that affects the digestive tract and is generally classified under the term inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). And I’m not alone. There are approximately 1.6 million Americans who suffer from IBD. Throw in the 25 to 45 million Americans with the less-severe irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and you have a lot of people dealing with chronically problematic tummies.
My Crohn’s is stubborn and lingering. It flares up with very little warning and sticks around for a long time. My last flare-up lasted about a year. That’s an entire year of joint pain, fever, crippling abdominal pain, internal bleeding, chronic exhaustion, and somewhere between ten and twenty trips to the bathroom a day.
There is something I can take that will at least temporarily lessen some of my more pressing symptoms. It’s also expensive to treat. A single dose of my prescribed immunomodulator costs a little over $20,000 retail. I take it every four weeks. And it, like all immunotherapy drugs, leaves me terrifyingly vulnerable to opportunistic disease — everything from the common cold to tuberculosis to MRSA — as well as increasing my chances for developing fun things like a rare and deadly type of lymphoma.
Long-term treatment may be expensive and slow-acting, but there is something I can take that will at least temporarily lessen some of my more pressing symptoms. I can get this medicine at any pharmacy, over the counter, for pretty cheap. It’s called loperamide, although you might better recognize it by its brand name Imodium. And now the FDA wants to make it harder to get.
We’ve Done This Before
Apparently, some few people are taking dangerously high doses of loperamide to get high. Generally speaking, those abusing loperamide are already addicted to opiates. And, as you’d expect from huge overdoses, it’s making these people very sick and, in rare cases, killing them. This is, of course, indicative of the larger overall problem of opiate addiction in this country, but trying to stem the opioid crisis through regulation of how many anti-diarrhea pills you can buy at a time is a bit like putting a bandage on a wound while ignoring the arterial bleeding.
Despite adding a lot of hassle into the treatment of stuffy noses, meth only became more pure. There’s been much ink spilled on how to help solve this problem, so we won’t rehash that here. What concerns me is the blatant disregard the FDA has for genuinely sick people. In its frantic efforts to Do Something about fringe cases, it’s only making already-difficult life even harder for the chronically ill — to very little positive effect.
This isn’t the first time the FDA has restricted the purchase quantity of an over-the-counter medication. In an attempt to curb methamphetamine production, in 2006 the FDA put limits on how much pseudoephedrine, a nasal decongestant, you could buy and also required a photo ID to do so. Despite adding a lot of hassle into the treatment of stuffy noses, meth only became more pure.
What on earth makes anyone think that going down this same road with loperamide will have any kind of positive benefit?
Making Life Harder
It infuriates me how the FDA could so callously disregard the impact on everyday life for more than 25 million Americans. I fully acknowledge that most people do not have the need to carry a supply of anti-diarrhea medication with them wherever they go. But I, and millions of other Americans, do, and the vast majority of us use it responsibly. We use it to make it through the workday and sleep through the night. We use it to manage the two-hour car ride to grandma’s house. We use it to get past the waiting room at the doctor’s office.
The government has already wrecked severe pain management in its crusade against opioid abuse while having no discernable impact on the rate of overdoses. But instead of making it easier for addicts to get help, they’ve instead opted to make over-the-counter treatment of a fairly common ailment more difficult. It is infuriating to me how the FDA, with its access to much more detailed health statistics than I have with a casual Google search, could so callously disregard the impact on everyday life for more than 25 million Americans.
After all, isn’t the FDA — and, indeed, all government agencies — ostensibly there to make life better? Between its driving up the price of medicines, its refusal to acknowledge alternative therapies, and now this, I fail to see it.