A good example of the law of unintended consequences
February 13, 2011
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On one of our recent walks, I was trying to explain the law of unintended consequences to my 10 year old. I don’t remember what example I came up with, but I wish I had just read Dr. Harris’s blog entry Acetaminophen and the War on Drugs, because it’s a perfect example.
I recommend you read it, but the short of it is:
The drug schedules put in place by Nixon are about restricting drugs that people want to abuse (to get high) and not about drug safety (otherwise, chemotherapy drugs would be on the schedule). Companies, because they want to sell more drugs, have an incentive to move a drug from class IV to class III, because the latter class is less restricted and easier to prescribe. In other words, you can make more money from a class III than a class IV drug.
Vicodin is, well, let’s let the good Dr. tell us:
which is the brand name combination of hydrocodone and acetaminophen. Hydrocodone is an opiate analgesic and acetaminophen is the generic name for tylenol. There was not (as still is not) a version of hydrocodone all by itself – you can only get the two in combination.
I’ll give you the punchline now: acetaminophen is added to hydrocodone to make it toxic, and less useful to people that want to get high, because abusing it will damage your liver. In fact, this contributes to the 40,000 ER visits per year related to acute liver injury.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it now: the war on drugs is just stupid.