A Cure for Everything: Just Pop a Few Pills

News that my next doctor’s visit apparently will end with my

healer of choice handing me a prescription for an anti-cholesterol pill was so

startling that I almost put aside my cheeseburger and fries. Quickly regaining

my senses, I grabbed a spoon to scoop up the grease that had trickled down my

arm, put it back under the bun where it belongs, and turned to a page in the

newspaper containing a handy chart showing my chances of having a heart attack

before this column is finished. Although my cholesterol count is high enough to

inspire much tsk-tsking from medical practitioners, I don’t smoke, I exercise

regularly and I’m not out of shouting distance of my desired weight. So I stand

a good chance of getting this column done without feeling a sickly tightness in

my chest.

Still, though, if I read the medical community’s words

correctly-and deciphering medical-journal mumbo-jumbo can make a pharmacist’s

task look easy-I am one of the 23 million people whom the medical profession

wants to make drug-dependent. Currently, some 13 million people take medication

to bring down their high cholesterol. If the doctors have their way, that

figure will grow to 36 million. Drugs, my friend, are the future-the plastics

of the 21st century. Talk all you want about the stalled yet inevitably bright

future of tech and e-business, but you can’t lose if you put your Wall Street

bets on demography. Boomers are going to spend the next 20 years making the

transition from cranky middle age to creaky old age, and that means there’s

only one way drug stocks can move. Excelsior, baby! Arthritis, heart disease,

acid reflux, the heartbreak of psoriasis: There’s money to be made in them

there ailments of the aging and the aged. (That same bit of market wisdom

applies to casket-makers, funeral emporia and the inevitable cemetery-condominium

I.P.O.)

It figures that the battle to improve America’s health would

degenerate into a drug bazaar. After all, it’s the easy way, and the generation

currently in charge of things in these here parts is nothing if not susceptible

to easy solutions. Got a beer belly? Don’t cut down on those pints! Drink lite

beer! Kids got you down? Here’s some Ritalin

for them, and a little something for you, too! Yes, sir: Why deny yourself or

change your incredible lifestyle when the American medical community, in

conjunction with the pharmaceutical industry, can give you the life you’ve

always dreamed of? Veggie burgers at the family barbecue? Forget about it! A

side of greens instead of fries? Why? Hours spent doing aerobic exercises,

which do nothing for those showoff abs and biceps? Talk about waste! Now, for

an unlimited time, America’s doctors and druggists are offering an easy way out

of your artery-choking lifestyle. Don’t give up the cheeseburgers. Don’t buy

that NordicTrack. Take our miraculous drugs and live the life you’re entitled

to as a red-blooded American!

The doctors remind us that coronary heart disease is

America’s No. 1 killer, but that is a relatively meaningless statistic. Death

is actually America’s No. 1 killer, and all the pills in the world can’t change

that. When people in their late 70’s, 80’s and 90’s drop dead of coronary heart

disease, it’s hard to make the argument that they are “victims” of “America’s

No. 1 killer” who might have been saved had they only been given the right pills.

From a business perspective-and what perspective these days

isn’t?-the medical community’s big push for anti-cholesterol medication can’t

miss. Most cholesterol  patients won’t

be taking the occasional pill for their problem. They’ll have to take the drug

every day for the rest of their lives. This is the kind of racket that makes

Bill Gates look like a small-timer. Of course, no doctor will force a drug on a

patient (this disclaimer has been brought to you by nervous editors who live in

fear of libel suits). But how many of those 23 million Americans with high

cholesterol will have the nerve to say no to the magic of a splendid little

pill, even if it means a lifelong commitment and, by the way, the risk of

possible liver damage and other nasty side effects which went unmentioned in

some of the major news media?

One can only imagine how people with AIDS, cancer and other

terrible ailments must have felt as they read about this latest attempt to get

more Americans medicated. For so many suffering people, marijuana has offered a

measure of relief from nausea and other side effects of chemotherapy. But pot

is a controlled substance, and the frightened politicians in Washington won’t

have it any other way.

So cancer patients must do without, while those of us with

high cholesterol-a condition that exercise and diet can change-are invited to

the bazaar.