Friday, September 26, 2014

A Couple of Quick Reminders

First is one more example of how failure to take personal responsibility leads to a loss of freedom.  When we can’t be trusted to act responsibly, the government or some advocacy group decides that it’s time to limit our options.

In the latest example, a group of “anti-addiction activists are calling for the Food and Drug Administration's top official to step down, saying the agency's policies have contributed to a national epidemic of prescription painkiller abuse.”  What they object to is the recent approval of a powerful pain reliever called Zohydro. 

Their concern, which corresponds with that of some legislators, attorneys general and the FDA’s own medical advisors is that “deaths linked to the addictive medications, including OxyContin and Vicodin, have more than tripled over the last 20 years to an estimated 17,000 in 2011, the most recent year for which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports figures” and that approval of more powerful drugs will only exacerbate the issue.  The problem of prescription drug abuse is surpassing the problem of illegal drug use.  Continued approval of even more powerful drugs will, in their opinion lead to even more abuse and more deaths.

The other side of the coin is that even more powerful drugs when properly administered will lead to a better quality of life for those in severe pain.  The dual objectives of easing pain and reducing drug abuse are in conflict only because of the lack of personal responsibility among a large number of citizens – apparently well over 17,000.  Whenever we don’t behave responsibly, freedom is diminished.

Another reminder is my on-going theme that correlation is not causation and that certain news stories are often sloppily written and edited to ignore this fact.

In this HealthDay story about a study to determine a possible link between exposure to two common chemicals, a comment near the beginning states that “the study wasn’t designed to prove whether or not these phthalates actually caused the increased risk of asthma; it was only meant to see if there was an association between phthalates and asthma.”  Yet further on it says that “exposure in the womb to butylbenzyl phthalate caused a 72 percent increased risk of developing childhood asthma, while exposure to di-n-butyl phthalate caused a 78 percent increased risk.” [Emphasis added.]  A least one newspaper cut off a reprint of this article shortly after this point without including the further clarification about the limited sample size and that the environment where it was conducted, near New York City, is different in that it already has a higher incidence of asthma, which “opens the possibility that something other than phthalates may have contributed.”

In a shorter explanation the Boston Globe gets it right by more accurately wording the take-away as:  “Children born to mothers who were exposed to high levels of phthalates, chemicals found in common household products, may have a high risk of developing asthma.”  The difference is subtle, but significant.

These examples serve as another warning about how careful Americans must be in their behavior if they expect the country to get back on the right track, careful to accept responsibility, not blaming addiction or outside forces for problems, and careful to be skeptical of scientific research, especially when reading articles that contain contradictory information.  Much of our current behavior can be excused as human nature or mere carelessness, but as the world gets more complex, we must advance with it or become victims of that complexity, losing more freedom and making more ill-advised decisions when it comes to our health and wellbeing.

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