Friday, October 28, 2011

The Non-Production of Antivenom, A Sign of the Times

The commentary below is from Mike Leggett at the Austin Statesman's website.
I’m a capitalist in a capitalist society and so I have to support business decisions made for profit/loss reasons. Right? Therefore I must support the decision by drug manufacturers NOT to produce any more coral snake antivenom products in this country. The current supply, which was stockpiled in 2003, has been declared expired already but tests showed it still potent enough to use on humans. But it’s supposed to go away again Oct. 31. The odd truth is that not enough people are getting bitten by coral snakes and therefore there’s no money to be made in restocking the supply.Therefore, North America’s only neurotoxic poisonous snake — the Eastern diamondback and a couple of others have some neurotoxic properties — will have free rein to bite, poison and possibly kill a couple of people each year. Red and yellow, kill a fellow. Those are the cold hard facts. Here are some others: There is a Mexican version of the antivenom but it hasn’t been approved for use in this country as far as I can tell.There are only about 20 bites per year by coral snakes in this country and 60 percent of those — because of the snake’s primitive poison delivery system — involve no venom at all. Before the development of the antivenom, only 10 percent of coral snake bites were fatal, so we’re talking two per year, far less than from rattlesnakes (which do have antivenom), dog bites, bees and falling in the bathtub.With such a low incidence of harm or fatal bites, we have to wonder why we went to the trouble to acquire the amounts of venom needed to develop the serum and then grow it for sale. Maybe it’s because of the way a coral snake kills. There’s a Poe-like quality to a serious coral snake bite. The respiratory system slowly begins to shut down and victims, untreated victims, tend to die from a lack of oxygen as their lungs slowly cease functioning. Fortunately, coral snakes are really shy little creatures. I’ve only seen four or five of them in my entire life. And I’m looking. And, they have fixed fangs in a tiny mouth and requires them to sort of grind their teeth to break the skin and eventually inject any venom at all. Get them off quickly and you’re unlikely to receive any dose of venom from the bite. Of course, if I’m ever in that group of 20 bites, I want my antivenom. And I want it now.
This commentary clearly reflects the problem with big pharmaceutical companies and the profit motive. Being a capitalist should not be the reason to allow human deaths from snakebites or any other disease. It is at the heart of the twisted view that if you can't make money from human suffering, we should just let humans suffer. Antivenom is not the only disappearing pharmaceutical product, there are hundreds of them. It seems to be time to re-think the way medical care is delivered - do we really want big, greedy corporations practicing medicine - they are doing so right now.

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