If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.

- George Washington

Monday, 6 July 2009


Anna is having to take quite a lot of medicines at the moment. At the last count, it was 16 pills in the morning, 7 at mid-day and tea-time, and a further 9 at bed-time. Plus the Warfarin as directed, plus oral morphine at night for the pain. Her head is still a bit fuzzy, so the organisation of this falls to me. My choice. And it's driving me mad.

For every one of those pills (that's 39 a day, or 273 a week) comes in a plastic strip with foil backing, in groups of 7 or 10. This means that, after the Saturday evening sesh filling up the little compartments in the plastic dispenser pack, there is a pile of cardboard, metal and crushed plastic the size of a small car on my dining room table. Now this is a major irritation. Pills used to come in little bottles, with a cotton-wool wad in the opening to stop them rattling about. Shaking out a handful was easy; counting them out was simple, and the little bottles came in handy for all sorts of things afterwards. These days, by the time I have extracted a week's worth, my hands are aching and the table is covered in white dust, I have a waste stream to rival Biffa, and my head is aching at the sheer pointlessness of it. A hundred pills used to occupy a small bottle; now, they come in a packet the size of a housebrick, which is mainly fresh air and non-recyclable packaging. (The cheap Paracetamol that my pharmacist supplies is the worst: heavy plastic bubbles, covered with tough paper that would not be out of place on the Space Shuttle. I get about 1 in 3 out whole - the rest are smashed into chalk dust in the ripping process.)

Why change something that worked so well, and why change to something so wasteful? I'll tell you why. For the sake of the children, and to stop people from killing themselves. Now I resent this. For one thing, if I wanted to kill myself, I wouldn't let a bit of packaging stop me. If it took five minutes instead of five seconds to put in my hand enough Paracetamol to turn my liver to sludge and bring the curtains down on my miserable existence, I don't think I would find that a barrier. And if someone wants to top themselves, that's up to them. I don't see why I (and millions of other responsible adults) should be put to all this unnecessary hassle just to make it fractionally harder for them to grab a lethal handful.

But think of the cheeeeldren! Well, the childproof caps that came in when I was a teenager seem to do a pretty good job of stopping kids chasing them down like sherbert. And, in any case, what was wrong with the idea that medicines should be kept out of the reach of children, as they used to write on every label? Are parents now so stupid that they leave these things lying around on the basis that "we let Kylie play with them, cos they're in that new packaging, childproof, innit"?

Let's say, for the sake of argument, that one or two children's lives have been saved by this idea. I wonder how many adults have suffered or died because getting at their medication was more difficult that it needed to have been? After all, when you live alone and your hands are weak and arthritic is the time when you need all these pills the most. It's a case of balancing risk again. But, of course, old people don't quite have the emotional tug of the cheeeeldren, do they?


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