India, is the world’s largest democracy. It allows us the freedom to do what we think is right and what pleases us. One of the things that most pleases my countrymen is to experiment with their health and not just experiment once or twice but to do so every day, all their lives without taking responsibility for the consequences.
The experimentation is a pointer towards the wide variety of so called health services available for people to choose, not based on scientific evidence, not based on consequences tested and probabilities confirmed but based on our whims, our fancies, our neighbours’ experience or advertisements on T.V. or print media. Our good government is happy to allow us to do so, even though our health should be our government’s concern. (It focuses instead on interfering not with our health but in other things)
Unlike the developed countries, whom we always wish to emulate and follow, medicines are available as easily as milk and bread is. For people who have anxiety, different medicines, different consequences, different aspirations are a constant source of experimentation. But this leads to harmful consequences as well. Self-experimentation is something which the government doesn’t highlight, media isn’t bothered but it affects adversely the lives of millions of people.
One person, a young person, an educated person empowered by Google decided that he had Depression. He decided to take an anti-depressant. After a few days he decided to increase the number of tablets he takes. He purchased strips and boxes from his neighbourhood chemist and finally ended up in a psychiatric hospital for three months. His family had to dip into their savings to fund treatment for Psychosis that he developed because of the overuse of anti-depressants.
Many elderly people continue to take sleeping tablets which they were apparently given as a one off when they had some pain, fever or loose motions. Noting that it helped them to sleep better, other medicines are stopped but these (sleeping tablets) continue. There are millions of people who continue to take what they call sleeping tablets but which are actually Benzodiazepines, highly addictive, impacting memory and which are almost impossible to stop once you have taken them for sleep for a few months. The problem arises not in getting these medicines (because our country allows free trading in dependence causing medicines). The problem arises when for some reason, these medicines stop. For example, the elderly person is unwell, unable to eat or drink and therefore unable to take the sleeping tablet as well. That itself causes further deterioration. Many people end up in hospital suffering not merely from lack of sleep but from a bizarre set of symptoms that are subject to symptomatic treatment and fast investigations by hospital doctors. Ultimately ending up being given the same medicine at a higher dose and of course a psychiatrist is not consulted. If consulted, the advice to take proper treatment of Benzodiazepine dependence is dismissed. After all how is it dependence when it is so easily available? ‘At least its not alcohol’! That’s what people feel! When memory starts going down, when these medicines start interfering with other essential anti-diabetics and anti-hypertensives then the attempt to regulate and the attempt to reduce or stop begins; which without a proper treatment is not easy.
But apart from experimenting with the modern system of medicine, our country also has a unique advantage of experimenting with a mix of several systems of medicines. Thus the same person takes ayurvedic medicine, allopathic medicine, unani medicine, homeopathic medicine and with this mixture of elements affecting their body and mind many end up nowhere, not sure which medicine is helpful, which medicine is not, which is causing an adverse effect and which is not.
I often try and tell my patients believe in one ‘pathy’, focus on that at least for one or two months. If you do not get results then stop it and then move on to different ‘Pathy’. At least results can be attributed to one system but often that is not accepted.
Again the ease of availability and the lack of awareness and the lack of belief that this experimentation can lead to adverse consequences helps the people to continue to engage in this world’s largest experiment.