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Maxed Out: Predicting our pharmaceutical future

'Visions of North American men suffering through fitful nights of sleep, sheets draped like a single-pole tent over their pathetic, misfunctional erections, haunt my dreams of the future.'

In what may be the ultimate perversion of the Canadian psyche, I like February. What’s not to like? It’s short. There’s a surprise extra day every fourth year, stuck in the month like a toy in a box of Cracker Jack. By the time February rolls around, the days are getting noticeably longer. The sky’s brighter when I wake up. Light has replaced dark at four in the afternoon. If you’ve gotten smart enough to avoid maxing out your credit cards for Christmas, you can squeak through February without being reduced to eating beans and weenies. And, of course, there’s my birthday capping off the end of the month.

Now January, there’s a month to loathe. January is like sober Dr. Jekyll to December’s hellraising Mr. Hyde. January’s a pious Baptist minister droning on about the wages of sin to a congregation of hungover New Year’s Eve celebrants, collectively fantasizing the woodchipper scene from Fargo, only the padre’s still-kicking feet pointing straight towards heaven. January’s the month some anonymous, sneaky low-life usually greets me with a warm smile and slides a cold bug up my nose. That didn’t happen this year.

Well, actually, it happened in December. Instead of skiing the largely person-made snow early in December, I was surfing the couch or staring at a computer screen pretending to work. I do not do sick well. I just want to be left alone with a soft couch, endless supply of tissues, books not requiring much attention to read, and every patent medicine known to mankind. I subscribe to the medical theory that, if some is good, a lot is better. Since every single one of the drugs I take warn me against operating heavy machinery, I pretty much limit my mechanical dithering to operating the TV’s remote control.

I even occasionally, through inattention, see part of a commercial, something remote controls were made to allow us to avoid. I’m not sure when commercials became largely controlled by drug-pushing pharmaceutical companies but the few I’ve partially seen leave me yo-yoing between optimism and great fear about what the future has in store for me. Judging from what I see, I am/we are doomed to spending much of the remainder of our lives beyond middle age stricken with one malady after another—and this is the optimistic part—for which benevolent multinational drug companies have fashioned miraculous cures. I’m not sure how I could face a future being an erectile-dysfunctioning, constipated, adult diaper-wearing, balding, anxiety-ridden, overweight, acid reflux-swallowing basket case. But through the salvation of modern science, I/we won’t have to.

I don’t know why, as a society, we’ve wasted so much time and money waging an unwinnable war against drugs. It seems to me as though using recreational street drugs is a lot like having training wheels on your first bicycle. They just make it easier for you to step up to the big leagues. In this case, the big leagues must surely be the prescription drugs being shilled now, with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration having completely eliminated rules around advertising them. I don’t know if there are any rules in Canada and it really doesn’t matter, does it? Canadians are, by now, as familiar with Prilosec as they are with Pontiac... except you can still get Prilosec.

I’m not hanging all my future hopes on pharmaceuticals. But it’s comforting to know if my crunchy-granola, clean-air lifestyle of moderation in all things fails, there’s a silver bullet to bail my sorry butt out. I’m not entirely sure, though, there isn’t a downside to all of this. Maybe the pharmagiants haven’t worked all the bugs out.

I was overjoyed 24 years ago, for example, when Pfizer came out with Viagra, warmed by the thought of drug-induced woodies well into my dotage. Then I started to wonder about just how big a breakthrough it was. I mean, what good is pneumatic, four-hour readiness if Pfizer doesn’t come out with something to fire the libido of your aging partner? Tylenol doesn’t cure those headaches, baby. Half full or half empty, you still need a full glass to make whoopee. Visions of North American men suffering through fitful nights of sleep, sheets draped like a single-pole tent over their pathetic, misfunctional erections, haunt my dreams of the future.

And then there’s the side effects. The most common side effects of Viagra are headaches and flushing of the face. So let me get this straight. I want to get lucky. I take a pill to get it up. Then I have a headache? Is this some sort of cruel irony? Of course, I’d be blushing at that point; who wouldn’t?

So, the sex thing needs a little more work. But at least, I can keep my hair, what’s left of it. There’s nothing to make a guy feel virile—even if the bits aren’t working—like keeping his rapidly thinning mane. Something called Propecia promises to let me do just that.

But the most common side effect of Propecia is less desire for sex and difficulty in achieving an erection. Keeping that youthful look and appealing to women seems to come at a pretty high price. If I want to keep my hair, I have to take Propecia, which means I have to take Viagra, which means I’ll have a headache and not feel like sex? Diabolical.

Contemplating the cruelty of this reality leaves me with only one rational choice: I’ll drown my sorrows in a gallon of ice cream and a quart of fudge sauce. Fortunately for me, there’s Xenical. Xenical is truly a wonder drug if anything can truly be called a wonder drug. It let’s you eat like a horse and not get fat. Something in it—I think it’s known scientifically as Compound X—prevents the enzymes in your digestive system from breaking fat down into tiny molecules that your body can absorb. Big globs of fat just slip through your system without hanging around as unsightly lumps you have to do thousands of sit-ups to get rid of. C’est miracle!

Unfortunately, those big globs of fat slip through your system so fast, you may not be able to completely control their exit. Xenical’s side effects include gas with discharge. Think about that for a moment. They also include an urgent need to go to the bathroom, an increased number of bowel movements, and inability to control them. It goes without saying you probably shouldn’t wear white pants if you’re taking this stuff.

Well, if medical science still doesn’t have the cure for aging, there’s always little red sports cars. Won’t make you younger but they’re a gas to drive.