Don’t just do something! Stand there!

“Doctors and parents need something for ill children, even if it has no proven effect.” Now there’s logic for you!

Perhaps you thought the following line of reasoning (from “Yes, Minister”) was supposed to be a joke:

We must do something.

This is something.

Therefore, we must do this.

But consider the logic, if one can call it that, of the minority of the FDA scientific panel that voted not to ban a wide range of children’s cold medications, which are known to be dangerous to some children and which have never been shown to be (and probably aren’t) effective in children:

Nine panel members voted against an outright ban in children ages 2 to 5, arguing that doctors and parents need something for ill children, even if it has no proven effect.

Whatever happened to “Primum, non nocere“?

I’ve long believed that homeopathic remedies serve the “must do something” urge for maladies without remedies, and do so at lower expense and with fewer side-effects than “real” medicines. If we could just convince people to take ineffective homeopathic medicines for their colds rather than antibiotics, we could slow the spread of drug-resistance in bacteria.

Footnote One of the side-comments gives away the game: the drugs are valued by some parents for their soporific properties, which are supposedly side-effects.

Second footnote The NYT story is frustratingly vague about the actual molecules involved: it gives brand names, but no generic names. As far as I can tell, the drugs in question are phenylephrine, pseudoephedrine, diphenhydramine, and dextromethorphan.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: