Two nights ago I commented to a friend that every second ad on American television is for some kind of prescription drug. Take this and don’t get clogged up, take that and you’ll never fart again (to which I say, where’s the fun in that?), put this cream on and your arse won’t burn when you’re sitting on a 15-hour flight to Hong Kong. The pattern is always the same: terrify the viewer into thinking that something perfectly normal, like not being able to get a diamond-splitting erection 24/7, is a sign of a terrible disorder, then hold up your medication as the only hope. It’s out-of-control marketing-driven capitalism at its worst.
About twelve hours later, there I am in my local pharmacy looking for something to stem the symptoms of my not so common cold. I intended to go in, get out and start a regimen of some snot-dissolving medication or other, simple as that. But as usual in this day and age, my choices were anything but simple. I was bombarded with questionable scientific claims and a variance in price that I couldn’t quite believe. For treating the symptoms of a simple cold there seemed to be a cornucopia of choices—expectorants, decongestants, pain relievers and something called pseudoephedrine. I consulted with one of the very nice staff members of this particular store, and lo and behold, her recommendation was to buy the generic store brand of a popular medication, which about $3 a box less that the recognized brand. As she so eloquently and honestly stated, it contains the same ingredients and does the same thing as the branded crap.
I picked up the box and proceeded to the checkout, where a very nice, seventysomething grandmotherish figure with painted-on eyebrows and enough badly applied make up to cake a Renoir canvas looked at my simple cold medicine and asked me for ID. “What?” I asked. I’ve tried my best over the years to work out and eat right, but I know that in my 50s, I don’t look under 18.
She smiled. “I know you’re not going to start a meth lab, but I have to ask. It’s the law.” Meth? I couldn’t work in a science lab much less a meth lab, where things tend to blow up! How silly and sad. After I presented my driver’s license, which I assume allowed her to take down my identity in case my box of decongestant later wound up in an episode of Breaking Bad, Detective Grandma checked me out and bid me a healthy, happy day. With a running nose and running shoes, I pointed myself toward the car, went home, broke open my box of future methamphetamine, and medicated away my symptoms for a while.
The irony? The common cold has no cure. All any of these many medications does is palliate the more unpleasant symptoms for a few hours. It’s the immune system that does all the heavy lifting. But it’s hard to scare the money out of a nation by telling them to get more sleep and eat chicken soup.