A Tragic Lesson In Double Standards - Again
Opinion By Nurse Mark
Dying For Athletic Performance
You may recall reading recently of a New York
teen who died of an apparent overdose of what are being called "sports creams"
or "muscle creams." The news report seems to be rather careful to not "name
names" regarding the product used, saying only that the product contained the
chemical methyl salicylate and citing a couple of examples of patented medicines
that contain the ingredient.
There are a
few things that disturb me about this whole affair.
First, a bright and wonderful young life has ended.
That is a tragedy of terrible proportions.
Next, this life ended as a result of the overuse (or misuse) of a drug.
Certainly this young lady must have been able to read the warnings regarding
correct and safe use of the products that she was applying to her body. But even
though there are "warnings" and "cautions", the drug companies go to great
lengths in their advertising campaigns to promote the idea that these
preparations are benign, and safe for virtually unlimited use. Certainly this
girl's mother fell for the advertising hype as she says "I did not think an
over-the-counter product could be unsafe." I would guess that the other
important people in this young woman's brief life who might have intervened, her
athletic coaches, shared similar beliefs.
Nothing could be further from the truth - Methyl Salicylate can be a highly
toxic substance if misused.
also have a long and safe history of use in traditional medicines: Oil of
Wintergreen, White Willow, Sweet Birch, Eastern Teaberry, and others have long
been used to provide relief of pain and inflammation by traditional healers.
There is a difference though: the forms of
salicylates found in the new, patented products are synthesized and are in
extremely high concentrations. High enough to be easily fatal when more than the
recommended amounts are used. The more traditional forms and uses of salicylates,
in teas brewed from plants, or simply by chewing on twigs or mashing plants to
rub on an aching body part are far less likely to ever result in overdose.
What else disturbs me about all this?
It seems to me that the reporting of this tragedy is
carefully avoiding any call for more stringent safety warnings or for banning of
these products or for any restrictions at all. It seems that patent medicine
giants like Johnson & Johnson, Chattem, and others will "dodge the bullet" on
Would this be the case if this
were a non-patented, natural product not from one of the "Big Boys?"
Somehow I think not! I'm betting that if this tragic
death had occurred as a result of the misuse of a traditional remedy we would
have heard instant and strident calls for the substance to be banned outright in
order to "protect our children" from "unproven and unscientific" (read:
Is this a
ridiculous or paranoid thought? Some might say, but I can only point to the
FDA's own "proud" history of banning natural substances under equally flimsy or
hyped-up pretext while safeguarding the interests of Big Pharma by protecting
drugs known to be deadly. Ephedra? A natural substance, implicated in the deaths
of a handful of people who misused it. Banned. Vioxx? A wildly profitable
patented medicine, protected until the dead bodies were piled too high to
ignore. Banned? Nope, "voluntarily withdrawn." Skin Answer, a skin cream that
users credited with success in treating some skin cancers? Banned. Lane Labs,
the small company who produced it? Ruined by the heavy-handed actions of the
FDA. Number of complaints about Skin Answer? One - made by the FDA itself.
Avandia, the new and profitable diabetes drug that has been killing people?
Still being protected by the FDA who are advising people to not stop taking the
Can you see the double standard at
work here? Or is it just me...
parents of Arielle Newman I wish to extend my most heartfelt sympathies for
their loss. To all the other young athletes, (and those not so young too) I ask
you to remember this tragedy when you reach for that "harmless" patented OTC
medication. Folks, I am a runner too - and I let my body tell me when to stop.
If it hurts, your body is telling you to ease up - let it heal, don't just cover
it up with a drug! No track meet or other athletic performance is worth your
MedlinePlus - Methyl salicylate overdose
MedlinePlus - Sports cream overdose
CNN - Medical examiner: Sports cream caused teen's death
NLM Hazardous Substances Databank – Methyl salicylate