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January 16, 1980 - Image 4

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The Michigan Daily, 1980-01-16

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a6

Page 4-Wednesday, January 16, 1980-The Michigan Daily

~brEtdtigan i t~
Ninety Years of Editorial Freedom
Vol. XC, No. 86 News Phone: 764-0552
Edited and managed by students at the University of Michigan'
S--"
piralng inflation leaves no
Choice but dorm -rate hike

Miracle drugs are harmful
to the nation's elderly.

E VEN AFTER weekend meal con-
solidation programs, energy
conservation campaigns, and various
service cutbacks, students living in
University residence halls will pay
nearly $300 more for their leases if the
Regents approve several Housing Of-
fice recommendations next month.
The staggering 13.2 per cent room
and board rate hike - the largest
University dormitory cost increase
ever - seems at first glance terribly
unfair and excessive. Not only will
such an increase very likely scare even
more students away from the Univer-
sity because of its high costs, but it will
also anger those already here who
must face tuition jumps of 8 to 10 per
cent each year.
It is very unsettling that a student
service so basic as housing must in-
crease in cost so much. Looking at the
13.2 per cent figure broken down into
its component increases, however, it
becomes apparent that the rate hike is
not an attempt by the University to
bleed students for money. Rather, it is
the unfortunate, but inevitable, result
of inflation. Fully 11.8 per cent - about
$220 - of the increase is directly at-
tributable to increased costs resulting
from spiraling inflation. There is sim-
ply nothing the University can do about
this figure.
This leaves about 1.4 per cent of the
increase that can be controlled by the

Regents. The discontinuation of
weekend meal consolidation, in-
stallation of cable television, and
deconversion of converted (over-
crowded) rooms comprise this flexible
1.4 per cent.
It would be easy to dismiss the
proposed cable television hookups as
frivolous. Or the cancelling of weekend
meal consolidation as needless luxury.
Or the planned installation of energy-
saving showerheads, which would save
each student about $8 per year but
also reduce hot water pressure, as not
worth the inconvenience. I
Yet, precisely because each of these
proposals involves some controversy
-each sets those who favor cutting
corners wherever possible against
those who desire certain services from
residence halls - it would seem ap-
propriate that the plans be submitted
to some sort of student vote before they
are presented to the Regents for what
many expect to be their rubber stamp
of approval.
The 13.2 per cent increase is the
recommendation of the Housing Of-
fice's Student Rate Study Committee,
a group composed of five students and
two residence hall staff members. It is
undoubtedly a careful analysis presen-
ting rational proposals. But the studen-
ts who will be affected should have in-
put into the plans that will cost them
money and/or inconveniences.

She seemed like perfect proof
that modern medicine can work
wonders: 73, years old, afflicted
with high blood pressure and a
heart condition, but kept clear-
headed and functioning with the
help of two miracle drugs
prescribed by tier doctors.
But when irregularity prom-
pted the elderly woman to use a
heavily advertised, over-the-
counter laxative, the miracle
almost killed her.
THE LAXATIVE transformed
the digitalis prescribed for her
heart into a toxic substance, and
increased the loss of potassium
associated with the thiazide
diuretic which controlled her
blood pressure. The result was
cardiac arrhythmia-an
irregular heart beat. It put her in-
to a hospital emergency room,
close to death.
Her story is not unusual in the
annals of medicine today. Many
elderly people whose deaths are
attributed to heart failure and old
age may in fact be victims of
prescription drugs that, com-
bined with other drugs, foods or
alcohol, make them sick, in-
capacitated or even kill them.
Because of inadequacies in
U.S. medical practice, a quantum
leap in pharmaceutical produc-
tion, and public ignorance of its
hazards, older Americans
regularly consume too many
medications in doses and com-
binations that are often deadly.
DR. MICHAEL REITER, a
staff specialist in pharmacology
for the elderly at the San Fran-
cisco Mental Health Depar-
tment, said many- of the drugs
prescribed through Medicare can
cause side-effects in the elderly,
including hazy vision, loss of
coordination, confusion or
depression. "This creates a
danger that adverse reactions
could be wrongly diagnosed as
senility or even mental illness,"
he warns.
A number of changes take
place as the body ages, and they
can make pharmaceuticals more
dangerous, he says. "Organ
systems function less efficiently,
causing drugs to be absorbed,
distributed, broken down and ex-
creted at slower rates." A normal
adult dose can be too high for an
elderly person.
"The same dose you and I
might take successfully could
make an 80-year old quite
agitated," according to Dr. Jack
Segal, acting chief of medicine at
Long Beach General Hospital,
and co-author of a Southern
California -survey of nursing
home patients. "The elderly
brain is exquisitely sensitive to
the toxic side effects of some of
these drugs. You've got this en-

By Gregory Bergman
tire population that responds to ces of older patients. Further-
medication quite differently than more, 80 per cent of the drugs
you would expect from the stan- now used in treating the aged
dard textbook." were not available to medical
students graduated before 1956,
THESE RISKS ARE compoun- so that a substantial number of
ded when several drugs are used doctors are unfamiliar with their
simultaneously, says Vera Labat, side effects or possible toxic
director of the Over Sixty reactions with other substances.
Geriatric Clinic in Berkley, And most American doctors sim-
California. "Multiple medication ply do not do a good enough job of
is a big problem among older informing their patients of risks
people. Often, medicines associated with medication.
prescribed years earlier are still
being used; people have changed A 1976 study by the respected
towns, changed doctors, run Cathedral Foundation of
short of money to buy new Jacksonville, Floridarevealed
prescriptions and continue taking that the aged frequently neglect
old ones, or are going to two or to discuss all of their prescrip-
more physicians for different tions, or the use of over-the-
ailments." counter products, or diet foods
Moreover, it's a problem of with their physicians. They also
enormous proportions. Although save drugs, use them without ad-
they comprise only ten per cent of vice, or share them with friends.
the U. S. population, eld-
erly citizens (over 65) BUT DOCTORS weren't
consume 25 per cent of all asking their patients many
prescription drugs. A Michigan questions about drug use either.
study found that one out of four The Michigan study found that 67
senior citizens in its survey took per cent of its responding Fphy-
"Some 70 per cent of the elderly now use
prescription drugs, most of which are
administered in amounts appropriate for
an average, 150-pound middle-aged adult
in good health. On all counts, the profile
does not fit the typical senior citizen."

regulating of drug use. Segal's
California study calls for changes
in medical education and for peer
review procedures to ensure that
practitioners are competent.
THE PUBLICATION and
distribution of informative books
on health for the elderly can b
encouraged by smedical care
providers. Some elderly people,
before turning to any prescrip-
tion, consult handbooks including
The Doctors and Patients Han-
dbook of Medicine and Drugs, by
Peter Parish, M.D. (Knopf); The
People's Pharmacy, by Joe
Graedon (Avon); and The Truth
About Senility-And How To
Avoid It, by Lawrence Galton
(Crowell).
Pharmacists can also be help-
ful. The California State Board of
Pharmacy considered a by-law
requiring that customers be
provided with verbal directions
for each original prescription
dispensed. But the proposal met
with bitter opposition from cor-
porate chain drugstores eager to
keep contact with individual
customers as brief as possible
from the California Medica3
Association and the California
Hospital Association, and, sur-
prisingly, from the American
Association of Retired Persons,
which feared that it would no
longer be able to dispense drugs
to its members by mailunder the
new by-law.
The Board eventually withdrew
the proposal.
The activist Gray Panthers
organization, which helpe4
establish Berkeley's innovative
Over Sixty Clinic, advocates
much more drastic changes.
They support the creation of a
national health service Wvhich
will take medical care out of the
hands of private, vested interests
such as professional associations
and pharmacy companies, and
foster new approaches which
might depend less on drug treat
ment.
Along these lines, U.S.
Congressman Ronald Dellums
(D., Cal.) has sponsored a Health
Services Act to fund publicly-
owned, locally-controlled con.-
munity health centers, where the
emphasis would be on health
maintenance and prevention.
At this point, however,
solutions are far less in evidence
than poblems-and efforts t
resist solutions. In a limited way,
the Berkeley clinic, which
deliberately teaches elderly
people what questions to ask their
doctors, offers a model for the
future.
Gregory Bergman wrote this
piece for the Pacific News Ser-
vice.

The politics of George

5Meany's
NE THING about George Meany
-he sure knows how to get
Democrats together.
In Meany's latest display of political
prominence, the former plumber from
the Bronx and late-president of the
powerful AFL-CIO has succeeded in
doing what the Des Moines Register
could not - getting Jimmy Carter,
Edward Kennedy, and Edmund Brown
together, even after Carter had
already refused a debate.
It wasn't the cornfields of Iowa, and
the national media wasn't there to tally
oip debating points, but when funeral
services for Meany were held yester-
day at St. Matthew's Cathedral in
Washington, Jimmy Carter was pried
out of his White House sanctuary and
forced on the same stage with his op-
ponents. It was an accomplishment of
sheer political brilliance only George
Meany could have pulled off. Coming
only a week before the Iowa caucus
votes, his untimely death was perfectly
timed.
Admittedly, a funeral service is
hardly a forum for free exchange of
ideas and debate among competing
candidates for office. Some would even
go so far as to say that politics and
funerals should be kept separate.
But politics was already mixed in
with George Meany's funeral, and
that's the way George Meany ob-
viously wanted it, having timed his
death right at the start of the 1980
primary season. Consider, for instan-
ce, Gov. Brown arriving at the church
with United Farm Worker President
Cesar Chavez - surely Brown's way of
flaunting an eventual endorsement.
And consider Carter, sitting in the pew
next to none other than Muriel Hum-
phrey, the late Senator's widow, as if to
remind Brown that he already has her

funeral
key endorsement. There was Ted Ken-
nedy, making the sign of the cross (in-
dicating who he expects to support
him) over Meany's casket, with
Meany's successor Lane Kirkland
standing at his side.
There was even politics outside the
church, as several young protesters
threw leaflets on Meany's casket. Con-
troversy, and George Meany was
loving every minute of it.
And what a blow for party unity to
force Carter, Kennedy and Brown to
put aside their verbal sparring to join
in a common chorus of praise for one of
the nation's most influential
Democrats. Just when the gloves star-
ted coming off in the cornfields,
Meany, by his death, put an element of
civility back into the race, as if to
remind all assembled that despite dif-
ferences, they were all in the same
party.
It was not only coincidence that
Meany timed his untimely demise to
correspond with the United Auto
Workers conference in Washington.
With the AFL-CIO often at odds with its
labor counterpart, the UAW, Meany's
last blow for working class unity was to
have his Washington funeral on the
very day the UAW came to town. The
nation's two largest labor
organizations were brought together in
the capital city - one to bury a past
leader, the other to choose leaders for
the future.
George Meany was a political
genius, capable of exercising political
clout up to, and even after, his death.
Somewhere, the former plumber from
the Bronx must have looked down on
the political landscape, that familiar
cigar in his mouth, to observe the
scene of unity he created by his death.
And he saw that it was good.

four or more prescription drugs
at once. Half reported using over-
the-counter analegesics,
laxatives, or antacids which
might interact toxically with
prescribed drugs.( Among the in-
stitutionalized, it was not un-
common for elderly patients to
receive eight or ten different
daily medications.
Some 70 per cent of the elderly
now use prescription drugs, most
of which are administered in
amounts appropriate for an
average, 150-pound middle-aged
adult in good health. On all coun-
ts, the profile does not fit the
typical senior citizen.
THE RESULT; much too often,
is too many drugs, in too large
doses. And unless -something is
done about it soon, the problem
will only become more enormous.
By the year 2000, the over-65 por-
tion of the U.S. population is ex-
pected to double.
Little is being done at the
moment. Few American medical
schools have separate depar-
tments of gerontology, or offer
adequate training in the treat-
ment of the elderly. Medicaltex-
tbooks seldom provide specific
information on the drug toleran-

sicians did not believe senior
citizens were more likely to have
problems with drugs than other,
age groups. And 80 per cent of
allied health professionals-nur-
ses, pharmacists and gerontology
specialists-agreed that doctors
failed to provide adequate infor-
mation about medications. "The
majority of physicians that treat
the large number of geriatric
patients are very often the least
competent in the community,"
Long Beach Hospital's Segal
charges.
"Physicians are so highly
revered among the aged that they
would not consider questioning
the need for a specific
medication, nor do they seem to
be aware of possible side effects
on contra-indicated contents that
these might contain," adds the
Cathedral Foundation's John
Lefler.
What might be done? The
Michigan study's authors have
made 20 recommendations, in-
cluding the distribution of more
information to the public, special
training programs in care for the
elderly, legislation requiring
geriatric dose guidelines, and
more thorough monitoring and

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