DIY Medicine; One Man’s Crusade Against Big Pharma
The public outrage that ensued over the hyperinflation of a cancer drug, villainized Martin Shkreli and made him the poster child of everything that is wrong with Big Pharma. And while the “pharma bro” is now in jail for his unashamed price gouging, amongst other things, the overarching problem of the exorbitant cost of these drugs hasn’t really been addressed. Since the issue is not going to be solved through government any time soon, it has led the terminally-ill and those with an anarchist sentiment to start creating DIY medicine. Could this really be a viable solution?
Open-source technology is an amazing thing, and it has allowed anyone with a good idea the ability to create solutions to our daily problems without having to jump through the hurdles of patents and legal technicalities. But now the concept of open-source is being taken a step further, by creating a platform for DIY drugs to combat inflation on a product that has life or death consequences.
Michael Laufer, a P.hD. mathematics professor-turned-pharmahacker, has started to combat the ever-increasing cost of pharmaceuticals by making them himself and uploading instructions for others to do so online. Laufer’s first success was the EpiPencil, a homemade EpiPen that can be made for as little as $30. EpiPens, which now exceed $600 for a two-pack, have sky-rocketed, nearly tripling over the past few years. Meanwhile, the price of one dose of epinephrine will run you about a dollar.
Providing not only instructions on how to acquire the necessary ingredients and synthesize the drug, Laufer also includes a label with the name and logo of his bio-hacktivist website, Four Thieves Vinegar.
Laufer has also uploaded the instructions for an “apothecary microlab” and an outline for synthesizing Daraprim, the cancer drug that made Shkreli infamous. In the near future, he also plans to upload directions for followers to make an HIV preventative, a Hepatitis-C treatment, and a drug combination used for abortions. Though the latter isn’t necessarily a drug needed for life-or-death illness, that is Laufer’s defense when he is criticized for promoting potentially dangerous DIY treatments; there are many desperate people who, faced with a life-or-death decision and unable to afford their prescriptions, are willing to try anything, including manufacturing medicine themselves.
Though Laufer has come under heavy criticism for advocating this kind of behavior, he has yet to face any serious consequences or lawsuits. The FDA has warned against the use of homebrew medications in response to his popularity, but it hasn’t banned it. Though the FDA does bring up some good points as to why the idea is pretty sketchy: home synthesis is easily contaminated, you could synthesize a sub-potent or super-potent drug, and you could be creating or buying counterfeit substances.
The impetus for starting this whole project came when Laufer was working in El Salvador on a human rights mission, noticing that a local clinic was running out of basic medication, like birth control. In an area where gang violence and illegal meth labs were prevalent, he thought that there should be a way for locals to synthesize legal drugs on their own, saying that it wasn’t that much different from cooking methamphetamine. This led him to start 4 Thieves Vinegar and change his career path to one that now involves medicine.
DIY Prescriptions May Someday Be Common
Aside from the arbitrarily high inflation that pharmaceutical companies impose on drugs, benefitting only their shareholders, transportation and distribution are also lofty expenses. Cold chain distribution, the logistical transport of drugs that need to be kept frozen or cold, is an incredibly lucrative business and one that adds to the cost of already expensive medicine. It is an industry that is expected to be valued at almost $17 billion in the next two years.
So, wouldn’t it make sense to skip that step and cut down on the price of these heat sensitive medicines if possible? Well, that’s exactly what Wyss Industries is proposing with its portable biomolecule manufacturing. After having some success with this technology, originally created for getting vaccines to remote villages lacking access to electricity and infrastructure, the company has considered it as a solution to combat the rising price of medicine in the first world.
Basically, the technology allows the essential components of a medication to be freeze-dried into tiny pellets that can be activated simply by adding water. These pellets can store for up to a year without the refrigeration normally needed. It also reduces the risk of messing up some critical step in synthesizing DIY drugs, when all you need is to add a carefully measured amount of water.
Homebrew Medications as a Cancer Moonshot
In Norway, a man suffering from a rare form of cancer had very few options left, with none of his medications working and a lack of resources to access treatment from specialists. He and his wife heard about a very particular experimental treatment that succeeded in China on someone suffering from the exact same type of cancer he had. The treatment was simple and cheap, but it was tailored specifically to this patient and wasn’t guaranteed to work on just anybody.
Unable to get a specialist to make the drug for him, his wife ordered the ingredients and had a lab synthesize a peptide component in the drug. When she had all $1000 worth of the ingredients, she paid for the use of a lab and made the drug herself. Though it wasn’t necessarily easy, she said it wasn’t rocket science and relatively cheap, compared to what it would cost otherwise. She has been giving him the drug in addition to his normal treatment, and his symptoms seem to have leveled off.
Though they can’t tell for sure whether the drug is having a significant impact yet, there are many risks with these treatments. But the argument for their use is the alternative of death. When nothing is working and death is imminent, most people are willing to try anything.
Do you think DIY medications are a good idea or does the danger outweigh the potential benefit?
The Actual Truth About Fluoride
Fluoride is added to 70% of America’s drinking water, in what has long been a controversial practice of involuntary mass-medication. The CDC lists fluoridation as one of the top 10 most important public health measures of the 20th century. But a group of non-profit organizations is now fighting the EPA on this practice, citing a mountain of evidence that shows little benefit, and massive risks.
Not only has the ingestion of fluoride been linked to a variety of health concerns, but research increasingly shows that it doesn’t even improve our teeth. While applying fluoride directly to the tooth’s enamel can perhaps prevent tooth decay, it has been proven in dozens of peer-reviewed studies that swallowing the substance has no health benefit whatsoever.
So why exactly do we fluoridate our water?
The origin of the practice is downright bizarre: In 1901, dentist Frederick McKay began a 30-year study of what was known as “The Colorado Brown Stain.” Residents of Colorado Springs showed a unique disfiguration of their teeth: brown, mottled pits appeared in this population with alarming consistency. Yet, as McKay would soon discover, there was a beneficial trade-off for this unsightly condition: Those afflicted by the “Brown Stain” showed a complete lack of tooth decay and cavities.
After an analysis of the local water supplies, McKay found an unusually high amount of fluoride, which he credited for both the lack of decay and the “Brown Stain.” Today, the “Brown Stain” is known as dental fluorosis, and mild cases (which only produce white streaks) are present in 58% of adolescents. This mild discoloration has been a known side effect of fluoridation since the beginning, but the benefit of cavity and decay reduction was thought to outweigh the risk.
In the last few decades, however, an abundance of medical research has emerged that shows much more profound potential dangers, leading to an ongoing legal battle to end this practice. Fluoride is essentially toxic to the human body, although in small doses, no acute effects are perceived. While our kidneys are able to filter out 50-60% of the fluoride we consume, the rest is stored in the body and has been observed to build up over time in certain areas.
One organ that is particularly susceptible to fluoride build-up is the pineal gland — the part of our brain responsible for regulating sleep and reproductive hormones. Sometimes known as “the third eye,” this small gland has been linked to metaphysical abilities by many cultures throughout history. Philosopher and scientist René Descartes believed the pineal gland to be the “principal seat of the soul.”
It is estimated that 40% of Americans have significant amounts of fluoride build-up in this gland by age 17. By old age, the pineal gland contains about the same amount of fluoride as a tooth. While the role of the pineal gland in facilitating psychic abilities and increased intuition is still up for debate, the fact that fluoride consumption impacts the gland’s ability to function is absolutely proven.
And that’s not the only part of the brain that suffers: over 30 independent studies have linked fluoride to a reduction in childhood IQ: A 2018 study published in Occupational & Environmental Medicine found that, for every increase of 1 milligram per liter of fluoride in a pregnant women’s urine, their offspring averaged 2.4 points lower IQ scores at age 1-3 years old. This follows a 2017 study funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) showing in utero fluoride levels associated with lower IQ in 6-12 year-olds.
Animal studies have shown other neurological effects, including impaired memory, reduced ability to learn, and even mild forms of brain damage. With potential health risks like that, you would think that the evidence of fluoride’s benefits must be pretty solid. …..well, think again.
There is no solid proof that drinking fluoride actually improves dental health.
In a 1989 study, data collected by the National Institute of Dental Research found that children who live in areas where the water supplies are fluoridated have tooth decay rates nearly identical with those who live in non-fluoridated areas. While tooth decay has declined in the US since fluoridation was introduced, countries which do not add fluoride to their water have seen the same rate of decline in tooth decay. This data from the World Health Organization implies that factors other than fluoridated water are contributing to the overall improvement of dental health worldwide.
In fact, there has never been a controlled, randomized trial to demonstrate the effectiveness or safety of fluoridation, despite over 60 years of consumption in public water supplies. A 2009 study, funded by the NIH, was surprisingly the first to look at individual exposure to fluoride (as opposed to simply living in a fluoridated community). They found no correlation whatsoever between fluoride ingestion and tooth decay.
Considering the wealth of scientific evidence now available, the involuntary mass-consumption of fluoride seems indefensible. Yet the EPA has dismissed citizen petitions to remove the substance, and is now trying to dismiss a lawsuit which would ban the use of fluoride under the Toxic Substances Control Act.
Carbon filtration devices, like those made by Pur or Brita, will not remove fluoride from water. Even expensive reverse-osmosis filters can not remove 100% of the substance, although they can be up to 90% effective. Even if you have your own well or collect rainwater to drink, fluoride is still practically impossible to avoid. Food and drink is often made with fluoridated water. And of course, no explicit labeling is required.
When most people hear the term fluoride, they think of happy, white, shiny teeth. But if more Americans looked at the actual truth about this practice, perhaps the involuntary medication could end.