Cold Fury

Harshing your mellow since 9/01

A little useful knowledge

About another useless federal program.

ProPublica has been researching why the U.S. health care system is the most expensive in the world. One answer, broadly, is waste — some of it buried in practices that the medical establishment and the rest of us take for granted. We’ve documented how hospitals often discard pricey new supplies, how nursing homes trash valuable medications after patients die or move out, and how drug companies create expensive combinations of cheap drugs. Experts estimate such squandering eats up about $765 billion a year — as much as a quarter of all the country’s health care spending.

What if the system is destroying drugs that are technically “expired” but could still be safely used?

In his lab, Gerona ran tests on the decades-old drugs, including some now defunct brands such as the diet pills Obocell (once pitched to doctors with a portly figurine called “Mr. Obocell”) and Bamadex. Overall, the bottles contained 14 different compounds, including antihistamines, pain relievers and stimulants. All the drugs tested were in their original sealed containers.

The findings surprised both researchers: A dozen of the 14 compounds were still as potent as they were when they were manufactured, some at almost 100 percent of their labeled concentrations.

“Lo and behold,” Cantrell says, “The active ingredients are pretty darn stable.”

Naturally, and as is almost always the case, Leviathan exempts itself from the rules it forces the rest of us to labor under. Which amounts to a pretty good working definition of tyranny, if you ask me.

The federal agencies that stockpile drugs — including the military, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs — have long realized the savings in revisiting expiration dates.

In 1986, the Air Force, hoping to save on replacement costs, asked the FDA if certain drugs’ expiration dates could be extended. In response, the FDA and Defense Department created the Shelf Life Extension Program.

Each year, drugs from the stockpiles are selected based on their value and pending expiration, and analyzed in batches to determine whether their end dates could be safely extended. For several decades, the program has found that the actual shelf life of many drugs is well beyond the original expiration dates.

A 2006 study of 122 drugs tested by the program showed that two-thirds of the expired medications were stable every time a lot was tested. Each of them had their expiration dates extended, on average, by more than four years, according to research published in the Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences.

Some that failed to hold their potency include the common asthma inhalant albuterol, the topical rash spray diphenhydramine, and a local anesthetic made from lidocaine and epinephrine, the study said. But neither Cantrell nor Dr. Cathleen Clancy, associate medical director of National Capital Poison Center, a nonprofit organization affiliated with the George Washington University Medical Center, had heard of anyone being harmed by any expired drugs. Cantrell says there has been no recorded instance of such harm in medical literature.

And there’s your pretty good working definition of the federal goobermint itself: an all-powerful bureaucracy eternally searching for “solutions” to “problems” that don’t actually exist, mucking things up entirely in the process. See also: “climate change,” just for one obvious example. You can be sure that this same sordid story of overregulation, obsessive control, red tape, and senseless, destructive, costly waste is repeated throughout any federal agency you’d care to examine.

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"America is at that awkward stage. It's too late to work within the system, but too early to shoot the bastards." – Claire Wolfe, 101 Things to Do 'Til the Revolution

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