Tag Archives: pharmaceutical industry

The Flavor of Childhood: Sweet Medicine

Yasmeen, Flickr (BY NC-ND 2.0)

Even if you were more partial to the taste of purple Dimetapp cough syrup or the fake banana flavor of some prescription whose name I can no longer remember, you know the flavor of pediatric amoxicillin. Everyone loved that pink medicine. Its chalky, anonymous fruit flavor has generated loving blog posts and subreddits of impressive lengths. One writer loved it so much as a kid she went on a quest to taste it one more time. At The Atlantic, Julie Beck searches for that peculiar pink flavor of childhood to learn where it came from and how taste shapes a child’s experience of illness.

Taste is a factor in children’s medicine in a way that it’s just not for adults, who are prescribed pills for most things. And children often need the extra enticement of a familiar flavor to be coaxed into taking their medicine. But flavor used to be considered a more integral part of medicine for all ages—more than just something added to make it palatable.

Under the humoral theory of medicine, Berenstein says, “tastes themselves were correlated with the body’s humors.” So if someone’s four humors—black bile, yellow bile, blood, and phlegm—were seen to be out of balance, they’d likely be advised to avoid certain tastes, and eat more of others. A melancholic person, for example, might want to avoid vinegar (sour—just like them), and eat more sugar to balance themselves out. “It wasn’t about a spoonful of sugar making the medicine go down,” Berenstein says. “A spoonful of sugar was the medicine.”

And for bitter herbal preparations that served as medicine, Greene adds, the bitter taste was “proof of efficacy”: If it tastes gross, it must be working. But in the 20th and 21st centuries, the Western understanding of medicine came to focus on active ingredients. What Greene calls “the sensuous dimensions of medicine” got “systematically written out of the stories we tell ourselves about pharmaceuticals and the way they work.” But medicines “nonetheless have physical properties,” he says, “and those physical properties certainly influence our experience of them.”

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When Prescription Abuse Among Veterans Accelerates Into Heroin Addiction

Colby’s death is one of at least five fatal overdoses with direct links to the Tomah VA while Houlihan was in charge. Some, like Colby, overdosed primarily on prescription medications. That was true for Jason Simcakoski, a 35-year-old former Marine who died in the Tomah VA’s psychiatric ward in August after Houlihan suggested the opiate Suboxone be added to a prescribed mixture of 14 medications.

Others happened when prescription abuse accelerated into heroin addiction. This progression, seen around the country, contributes to a fatal overdose rate among VA patients that the agency’s researchers have pegged attwice the national average.

“The effects produced by oxycodone and hydrocodone are indistinguishable from the effects produced by heroin,” said psychiatrist Dr. Andrew Kolodny, chief medical officer of Phoenix House, which runs more than 100 drug treatment clinics nationwide. “If we don’t see that the many veterans who became addicted are provided with effective addiction treatment, we will continue to see veterans turn to heroin, and we will continue to see very high overdose death rates.”

Aaron Glantz, writing about opiate overprescription among veterans for Reveal News. Glantz’s investigation focused on the community around the Tomah VA in Wisconsin, where opiate prescriptions have skyrocketed under the hospital’s chief of staff Dr. David Houlihan.

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