I had the pleasure of talking and sharing wine with some neighborhood friends last night, and one woman has a husband going through aggressive chemotherapy. We lamented the unavailability of THC (the stuff in marijuana) legally available here since it has known curative as well as palliative properties. This lack of availability is especially galling since the area is rife with pain clinics offering ketamine, fentanyl patches, morphine lollipops, and a whole host of other non-curative, highly addictive, and easy to obtain narcotic pain medicines.
This morning, my husband and I discussed our differing opinions on the curative properties of essential oils, particularly for topical and aromatherapy uses. He has a mild skin irritation — rosacea or perhaps eczema — on his face, and during his check-up yesterday his doctor prescribed some sort of steroid cream for it. When he went to get the prescription filled, the co-pay was $202. He decided not to get it filled, and I told him I could blend lavender, peppermint, and melaleuca oils to help clear up his skin issue. He declined and opted for cortisone cream instead. He does not believe there is sufficient science behind most homeopathic treatments and likes to point out that things like essential oils are not regulated by the FDA. Of course, I like to point out that the FDA is hardly an unbiased curator of the people’s health and is definitely in the pockets of big pharmaceutical companies.
When my friend was in the hospital for her chemo treatments a couple years ago, she told the nurse she had a headache. She was offered morphine. My friend suggested she try acetaminophen or ibuprofen first. A version of this happened several times.
My mother-in-law had back and knee pain. She died from a prescription drug overdose at age 52. The autopsy said it was heart failure, but we were there when it happened. Her heart may have failed, but only after she took too many pills and was falling asleep while eating Sunday dinner. Literally, her eyelids drooped and she faded in and out of conversation. Her mother told her to go lie down. She stumbled to bed, lay down on her back, may have taken another pill, threw up, aspirated, and never woke up. Heart failure, my ass. A few years later, the same thing happened to her older sister.
These stories bring me to this rant:
Based on data from the CDC in 2014, 40 Americans die each day from prescription opioid overdose, and half of those deaths are from prescription pain relievers. That’s right — about 40 people a day, or over 15,000 per year — are dying in the U.S. from things doctors prescribe. This problem is getting worse, not better, year over year, and it does not account for the overdoses to non-prescription opiates (which many turn to after their legal supply has ended).
Prescripton opioids are expensive (for consumers, for health insurers, for life insurers, for hospitals), but they are readily available, legal, controlled substances. And drug companies make millions (billions) from opioid sales. I suspect pain clinics and certain doctors make a fair bit from these prescriptions as well.
Deaths from marijuana last year, especially now that it’s legal? Zero. But does it work to alleviate pain, reduce stress, and maybe even, if prepared and ingested properly, help cure certain kinds of cancer or at least help the symptoms? Probably, but we need to see more testing. To do that we need more access, better labeling, more consistent distribution, more money put into those studies.
Deaths from essential oils and things like kratom? One to 14 per year, maybe. But boy, is the FDA pissed that companies are marketing something that cannot be patented (and therefore made profitable to big pharmaceutical companies). Essential oil claims have not been validated, they say. Things like kratom replace legal drugs like alcohol and illegal ones like heroin, the DEA says. Trae Crowder has a nice perspective on the DEA and FDA classification of kratom as a class 1 narcotic.
Are companies like doTerra and Young Living or sellers of kratom making profits? Absolutely, of course, but nowhere near the profits and lobbying power of big pharmaceutical companies. Are any claims for essential oils and a lot of other homeopathic remedies backed and peer-reviewed studies? Not enough, and I’d like to see more.
I want to trust medical science, and, in fact, I do. I am certainly not saying we can cure cancer with THC-blueberry-coconut milk smoothies, or that I would decline antibiotics for an ear infection in favor of peppermint oil. I do not, however, trust the FDA or companies who have so much to gain from their patents and who invest so much in marketing and lobbying to do the “right thing” by pushing for the least expensive, lowest potential side effect, easiest to distribute and reproduce ways to keep people healthy or to cure disease, or to actually care about how many people they kill with their products. Because big pharma doesn’t kill people, their pills do.