Surfing the Side Effects
Using meds to reap unintended diabetes, weight loss benefits
By Wil Dubois
Warning: Reading this column may cause eyestrain, back strain, or brain strain. Reading while operating a motor vehicle or heavy machinery can result in injury. Reading on an e-reader while in the bathtub increases the risk of electrocution. Some readers have reported headaches after thinking about certain subjects addressed in this column.
The effects of reading this column while consuming alcohol have not been studied. If you experience any of these side effects, stop reading immediately and call your spouse (who can then read the rest of it to you).
Yes, the ubiquitous laundry list of possible side effects of our medications runs so long and is so ridiculous that most people don't bother to even read it. It exists partly for your physical safety, but largely for the liability safety of the pharmaceutical companies who make the drugs. If you turn green and grow a third arm, hell, don't sue us, we warned you it could happen.
In my experience, only two types of people actually bother to read the patient information sheets on prescription drugs in any detail: Hypochondriacs and Drug Surfers. Hypochondriacs, as you know, are people who either imagine health issues or, in the case of medication side effects, are overly suggestible when it comes to symptoms.
Patient: "Doctor, this new medicine you put me on is making me dizzy when I lie down, my urine smells funny, and I broke out in a rash on the soles of my feet."
Doctor: "Really? Goodness. Those are all very rare side effects. How many doses have you taken so far?"
Patient: "None yet. I just opened the bottle and sniffed the pills."
Doctor: (Under his breath) "I should have listened to my mother. She wanted me to be a veterinarian."
I think we all know people like that. Drug Surfers, however, is likely a new term to you. Probably because I just made it up for this column. Still, it's a nametag for an alarming new trend that I'm seeing: People asking their doctors for specific medications, not for their intended use, but to leverage their side effects.
OK, remember that a medication side effect is simply an effect that happens to be incidental to the drug's design. We tend to think of dire side effects: This medication may cause spasms, coma, or death. Call your doctor right away if you experience death. But side effects can also be beneficial. A medication intended for blood sugar control might have the side effect of improving cholesterol, for instance. Or a drug for hypertension might have the side effect of thinning the blood. Doctors have been leveraging positive side effects for decades. The practice is called "prescribing off-label." In other words, prescribing the medication for a purpose that it's not FDA approved for, but is never the less recognized as effective by the medical community.
That can be risky, but at least it's medically supervised. But Drug Surfers are taking risk to a whole new level. They're using the Internet to research side effects they desire, then making up or exaggerating symptoms related to the labeled use to try to get their doctors to prescribe the meds for them.
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Years before I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, The Other Half came out of a doctor's appointment with a diagnosis of "borderline diabetes" and an ADA exchange diet sheet. His health insurance agency followed up on the diagnosis with a glucometer and test strips. After a year or so of trying to follow the diet plan and test his glucose levels, things appeared to be back in "normal" range, and stood there until a couple of years after my own diagnosis. Shortly...