MAIL CALL

What the Future Holds for Our Health

Our Dec. 6 Health for Life Special Report drew letters from readers interested in new medical technology or concerned about current health threats. Some were intrigued by the idea of memory drugs, the subject of the lead article, but had their reservations. "One danger with pills that would improve long-term-memory function is the possibility that they could interfere with the ability to repress painful memories," said one. Others commented on our article examining microbes' increasing resistance to antibiotics. One doctor blamed excessive use of broad-spectrum antibiotics. "As long as we continue to rely on [these drugs], the health threat posed by antibiotic resistance can only get worse." And some readers took issue with the focus of the article on AIDS. "Abstinence is never mentioned in your story," wrote one. "Guess what? It works and it costs nothing."

Medicine: What's Next

Great job, NEWSWEEK! the neurological science of improving memory is finally underway ("The Quest for Memory Drugs," Dec. 6). I had mesial temporal sclerosis and lived more than 27 years of my life with seizures. Five years ago I underwent more than seven hours of brain surgery and had my left frontal lobe and entire hippocampus removed. I haven't had a seizure since. I live my life without the most pertinent components in the brain controlling short-term memory, yet I do not regret anything. The human brain has considerable plasticity and is capable of remarkable adjustments after trauma. With five years of pushing my brain to its maximum potential, my memory is about 80 percent normal. Please continue your reporting on Aplysia, for it will one day improve the quality of life for millions.
Christine Friedkin
River Vale, N.J.

I applaud Victoria Hale for her inspiring work to bring underfunded drug therapies to market ("Creating More Paths to Hope"). She highlights the tragic reality that too few research and development opportunities are pursued because of funding shortfalls. Although her organization is making tremendous strides, it cannot tackle this enormous issue alone. Our nation's medical and health-research enterprise is the envy of the world. However, more policy, regulatory and funding incentives for collaboration among the sectors that make up our nation's research enterprise--industry, academia and government--are essential for a timely, compassionate and effective response to the vast number of rare diseases for which no treatments or cures currently exist. Government-supported research, the majority of which is conducted in our nation's academic and independent research institutions, delivers important basic scientific knowledge. The pharmaceutical industry builds on this knowledge with strong investment in research to identify, test and develop clinical-application opportunities. The products resulting from this investment are frequently extended to Third World countries at little or no cost. We need to emphasize a climate of collaboration through regulatory reform and new funding mechanisms--a scenario that Congress and the administration must support and prioritize.
Mary Woolley
President, Research!America
Alexandria, Va.

I was surprised to find no reference to eye-movement desensitization and reprocessing in your article on posttraumatic stress disorder ("Battling the Effects of War"). EMDR is an amazing nonpharmaceutical resource for immediate relief of the anxiety, panic and long-term stress created from traumatic events. Eleven years ago I was in my bank when it was taken over by two men with assault weapons. They grabbed employees and customers, creating hysteria, panic and trauma for all of us. The shock of that had not fully set in when the Northridge earthquake hit while I was sound asleep on the first night in my new house, only four miles from its epicenter. To describe me as shellshocked would be entirely apt. After months of increasing restlessness and a diminishing ability to function on a day-to-day level, I sought talk therapy. Luckily for me, my therapist was also trained in EMDR. When certain anxiety-triggering events shut me down, she suggested a session of EMDR. In the less than 50 minutes we spent doing it, I processed and released stress, anxiety, fear and confusion that talk alone would have taken years to cover. I was able to relive the events without the crippling emotions and find a way out of the eddy of panic and anxiety that had become the increasing norm. No drugs, no long-term care, no rehab. Just that one-hour session, and "normal" was something I could recognize again.
Vanessa Spady
Tarzana, Calif.

Based on the descriptions of the women who contracted AIDS, the article "The New Face of AIDS" should have been titled "The New Face of Morality." We know that having multiple sexual partners is not 100 percent safe. Contemporary culture, including the current TV lineup about bachelors and housewives, implicitly and explicitly states otherwise. The breakdown and personal modification of traditional morality has resulted in this tragic phenomenon.
Gary R. Court
Ann Arbor, Mich.

It would be nice if all the creationists who are attacking our science curricula read "Trapping the Superbugs." They say there's no evidence for evolution. Yet there it is within my own lifetime. My older sister was one of the patients saved by the then new wonder drug penicillin, which probably couldn't save her now because microbes have evolved to the point that penicillin can't kill them anymore. That's fact, not theory--evidence that life forms can change over time. Another thing: if man had the intelligence to figure out this wonderful way that life has of adapting itself so it can keep on living, what makes creationists think that God wouldn't have the intelligence to think up the whole system by himself? Do they really imagine that his power of invention never went beyond sculpting in clay?
Bev Kaufman
Sunrise, Fla.

Having spent considerable time and effort investigating the value of innovations in health care, I found your Dec. 6 issue intriguing. I and other economists who have studied medical progress have found that society has reaped enormous gains from past advances. The promise of the future is no less impressive. However, "A Prescription for Controlling Drug Costs" lays out public-policy threats that seem to be based largely on misunderstanding. There are those who claim, for example, that there is actually little innovation in new prescription drugs--that new medicines are just more expensive, not better, than old medicines. My research has clearly demonstrated otherwise. On the whole, across a range of conditions and populations, my research shows that newer medicines are better than older medicines. I have demonstrated that patients treated with newer medicines live longer, have fewer hospital admissions and use other health-care resources less intensively than those treated with older medicines. As we seek answers to policy challenges in health care, we must not imperil the enterprise that has discovered and developed new medicines and that stands to deliver even more.
Frank R. Lichtenberg, Ph.D.
Courtney C. Brown Professor of Business
Columbia University
New York, N.Y.

We are gratified that NEWSWEEK brought attention to the increasing problem of posttraumatic-stress-disorder symptoms in troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. We very much agree that these symptoms need to be treated aggressively with both psychotherapy and medications. However, we were disappointed that there was no mention of the unique usefulness of the inexpensive and safe generic drug prazosin for the very distressing trauma-related nightmares and sleep disruption experienced by many of these troops. Prazosin works by blocking the excessive brain "adrenaline" response experienced by many combat troops, and does so without causing sedation. It has been demonstrated highly effective in Vietnam veterans for nighttime PTSD symptoms and daytime sense of well-being and function. The clinical experience of our U.S. Army colleagues at Madigan Army Medical Center indicates that it is even more effective in young troops returning from deployment in the Middle East.
Elaine R. Peskind, M.D. Associate Director, Mental Illness Research,Education, and Clinical Center
Miles McFall, Ph.D. Director, PTSD Programs
VA Puget Sound Health Care System
Seattle, Wash.

Overwhelmed With Options

Jenny Norenberg reminds me of myself when I was her age ("I Can Do Anything, So How Do I Choose?" My Turn, Dec. 6). I remember angst-ridden, Chardonnay-soaked late-night phone conversations with friends, agonizing over the many choices we had to make and how overwhelmed we were to be facing them. We cursed the fact that we were not born in our mothers' time, when we could be secretaries, teachers, nurses or stay-at-home moms, thereby narrowing our choices. I was struck, though, by Norenberg's final words, and would like to give her the benefit of my extra 10 years of experience. Jenny, don't assume that you will have a husband, a home and children. I, too, assumed these things. I am now 37, without a husband, and a recently diagnosed chronic illness forces me to live with my parents and renders me unable to have children. Decisions are tough, I know. Enjoy your exciting life without taking it for granted. We never know what the future holds.
Jennifer Hummel
Fredericksburg, Texas

As I read Jenny Norenberg's My Turn, I thought, is this woman writing about my life? Like her, I've lived in six cities since I started college nine years ago. Since then, I've graduated from a prestigious university in Texas, worked at a Fortune 500 company and am now on my way to obtaining a graduate degree in engineering. While going to new places and making new acquaintances (and shouting, "I don't know a soul here!" on many a Saturday night), I have become more confused and lost than ever. Now that I'm graduating again, more choices about a second career and a seventh city are on the line. It is encouraging to know that there is a whole generation of twentysomethings out there, searching for our role in this world.
Jeff Lin
Los Angeles, Calif.

My father was working in a coal mine when he was 9; as a teenager, I flew intelligence-reconnaissance missions in Korea. Thus it is hard to be sympathetic toward Jenny Norenberg and those of her generation who are overwhelmed by too many choices. Take it from a codger who has led a full life: the way to happiness is to weigh options, choose, then stick with them. Working hard to be one's best while reaching out to others leaves little time for whining. Contentment lies in commitment to something bigger than self.
John J. Mollick
Fayetteville, Pa.

Bush's 'Architect'

If democrats need a wake-up call to raise them from their postelection stupor, your profile on Karl Rove should do it ("Rove Unleashed," Dec. 6). Part Machiavelli, part Svengali and part Dr. Strangelove, Rove is almost too cartoonish to be real. But anyone who has spent 30 years of his adult life glorifying George W. Bush must be feared, not because of any success but because such devotion to elevating mediocrity reflects a mind off its hinges. Like a child with a shotgun, he should not be allowed to possess the power he has. Rove's ambition to "design a legislative and philosophical agenda that will lead to further GOP gains, and beyond that to a political dominance that could last for decades" should be enough to send a shiver up the spine of any non-Christian, woman or homosexual.
Robert J. Inlow
Charlottesville, Va.

Where Is the Sacrifice?

I find it inconceivable that the Bush administration is planning to hold a traditional Inauguration complete with the usual Inaugural balls ("Financing the Fete," Periscope, Dec. 6). These are not usual times. These are times for sacrifice, not celebration. Our country is at war, and each day our soldiers are dying or are critically injured. Why are they the only ones expected to sacrifice? Inaugural balls were not held during World War II. How much better it would be to conduct a simpler ceremony and use the money saved to form a fund for families of those who have died or been wounded in the war. Such a gesture by our government would embody compassion, respect and appreciation for the sacrifices that have been made by our troops and their loved ones.
Pat D. Kennedy
Lakewood, Colo.

Perfecting Voting Devices

Can you really blame conspiracy theorists when they ask why the predominantly Republican manufacturers of e-voting machines are so reluctant to produce a paper record of each vote in the event that, however unlikely, a hard recount is required ("Four More Years to Finally Get It Right," The Technologist, Dec. 6)? Every time I go to the corner store and buy a 50-cent pack of gum, the low-tech cash register prints a paper receipt for me and prints a record of the transaction for the store's bookkeepers. During college I worked in a retail establishment that employed a similar machine, and over the course of tens of thousands of sales, this "technology" never once "gummed up the works." Why is the e-voting industry so reluctant to implement such a simple and cost-effective system that would at once silence its critics and, more important, go a long way toward improving the reliability of our elections?
Eliot Pratt
New York, N.Y.

The Importance of Needle Safety

As product manager for the syringes and needles shown on your Nov. 1 cover ("Flu Fever") and as director of communications for Smiths Medical ASD, Inc., we were pleased to see our products featured prominently. We were not pleased, however, to see that they were missing the key needle-safety shield that makes the product not just a syringe and needle, but a safety device designed to protect health-care workers, patients and hospital staff from accidental needle sticks and blood-borne pathogen exposure. Accidental needle sticks and other sharp injuries occur at a rate of 385,000 per year. Minimizing this risk has become a focus of infection-control practitioners, health-care workers and organizations like the Centers for Disease Control. We encourage NEWSWEEK to examine the federal legislation surrounding the requirements for reducing and preventing accidental needle sticks.
Sara BolducBrenda Beauchamp
Smiths Medical ASD, Inc.
Keene, N.H.

Clarification

In "Happy Divorce" (Dec. 6) the full title of the book by Jann Blackstone-Ford and Sharyl Jupe should be "Ex-Etiquette for Parents: Good Behavior After a Divorce or Separation."