Risky drugs

[From Bruce Abbott (971217.1810 EST)]

Bill Powers (971217.1212 MST) --

Mary once got hold of the half of the descriptive pamphlet that pharmicists
are supposed to tear off, and found that one of the observed side-effects
of the drug she had been prescribed is sudden death. She didn't take it.

One of the side-effects of drinking water is sudden death (you can drown in
a teaspoon of it). One of the side-effects of aspirin (supposedly) is Rye's
syndrome (brain swelling). Drug manufacturers have to list every _possible_
side-effect, whether likely or not, and whether or not proven to _be_ a
side-effect (if a symptom occurred in a number of people who took the drug,
that is enough to get it listed, even if an equal number in the control
group had the same symptom). You can scare yourself to death reading those
pamphlets (and you can have one on request if one is not already provided);
most don't give you the _incidence_ of these symptoms. So you don't take
your antibiotic, although the chances are good that it will help you fight
off an infection and next to nill that it will kill you. This is like the
reasoning of those who refuse to wear their seatbelts on the grounds that
they once heard of someone who knew someone who knew someone who got into an
accident and burned to death because the car caught fire and they couldn't
release the buckle.

Everything you do carries some risk with it. In those cases in which you
have the information, you should weigh the potential risk (as you see it)
against the potential benefit (as you see it), before making a decision.
For example, perhaps the stuff may kill you (one chance in 10 million), but
then again, you might die if you _don't_ take it (one chance in 100). In
this case you might be well advised to take your chances with the drug.