WASHINGTON, D.C. -- It is a fact of American journalism that it is almost always in a state of agitation. Its practitioners should, with a few notable exceptions, be on medication at all times. For the newsrooms of America, I would prescribe one of the many fine tranquilizers produced by our leading pharmaceutical companies.
An example of the agitation afflicting my unsedated colleagues is the enormous pother they have created over another of the pharmaceutical companies' wonders, painkillers.
One, Vioxx -- when taken in very high dosages and for a long period of time -- is suspected of causing cardiovascular problems for a small number of patients. Two others, Celebrex and Aleve, might when taken in huge doses and for a long time cause similar problems.
The makers of Vioxx imprudently hauled it off the market -- an invitation for the trial lawyers to pounce. The makers of Celebrex and Aleve have acted more prudently. They understand that the danger posed by their medications is slight and that tens of thousands of Americans with chronic pain face dreadful misery without these medications.
Yet the agitation of the journalists continues and moves from unwarranted alarm about a painkiller to Great Expectations about another, newer painkiller, one that sounds grisly to me, something called Prialt. It is made from poison found in the South Pacific cone snail. Yes, I said poison.
A similar painkiller that has scientists and journalists giddy in anticipation is made from fluids found in tree frogs. Of the snail-venom-laced painkiller, Richard L. Rauck of Wake Forest University and the Carolina Pain Institute exclaims, "This drug is very exciting because it's a very potent analgesic but isn't a narcotic." Very exciting indeed -- wait until it is discovered that Prialt's baseline risk for cardiovascular disease over a period of time is not less than 1 percent but actually 1.5 percent.
Then the trial lawyers will be ringing up the snail venom users. The press will be echoing with charges that Prialt's producer knew all along that the stuff was deadly. And forget not the case that will be made by the animal rights activists when they discover the impending depletion in the world's South Pacific cone snail population.
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