Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Tweet, Tweet, Tweet

Charles R. Earl, MA, ABD
CEO, Communication Connections

Back in the day, deep-shaft miners would lug a caged canary with them to serve as an early warning system if the oxygen supply should fail. If the canary would croak, then miners would hustle out of the hole. Recent events and diligent studies have demonstrated that the “drug safety canary” is developing a weakening “tweet.” The canary is not yet dead, but she is on serious life support.

Remember the concerns surrounding the adulterated heparin last year? My son was in intensive care with heparin as a vital component of his treatment at the very time when instances of the degraded drug were making headlines. An extremely stressful situation was dramatically compounded by the knowledge that a critical element of his care might be compromised. So I, man-on-the-street Charlie Earl, was smacked upside the head by the potential danger of an unsafe pharmaceutical. I was not the one being administered the drug. My son was, but my confidence in the safety of the system and the supply chain was shaken. I wondered “how is it possible for an adulterated product to get to the patient’s beside without having been detected?”

In a January 4th, 2009 article in the UK Guardian, Mark Townsend describes British authorities’ efforts to stem the flood of fake drugs into Britain. He quoted an Interpol official who admitted “to being ‘shocked’ at discovering that fake drugs were more deadly than terrorism.” Even if the representative of the international police agency were exaggerating, the issue of drug counterfeiting is, nonetheless, an enormous and growing problem. Our national level of awareness regarding drug safety is similar to our concerns about identify theft a decade ago. We are aware that a problem exists but believe it to be too small for swift and resolute action. When, however, we become personally affected by the problem (e.g. unwarranted charges on the credit card…or a seriously ill son attached to a multiplicity of machines in a cold and sterile hospital), then our senses are jolted, and we begin to repair our vulnerabilities. Let’s just hope we are not too late.

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