Building a nanny state “for the children”

Derek Hunter Contributor
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Everyone gets sick. You’ve had a cold or the flu at some point in your life that was accompanied by an annoying cough. I know I have. And I bet you’ve reacted like I did; rather than go to the doctor or hospital, you just went to the drug store and bought some over-the-counter cough syrup or, my personal favorite, NyQuil.  For most people, a cold or flu is a temporary inconvenience that passes in days, and they just need something to help alleviate the symptoms while their bodies fight off the bug. Well, the government may soon insert itself into that simple transaction and make it much more complicated and expensive than it needs to be.

The regulators at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) this month will consider making cough medicines that contain dextromethorphan (DMX), an ingredient in most cough medicines, prescription drugs. That would mean they could go from the shelves of drug stores to behind the pharmacy counter and only be available by prescription from your doctor. So rather than a simple transaction at the cash register, buying cough syrup would involve a trip to the doctor and prescription filling from a pharmacist. This will do nothing but add to your inconvenience and raise costs. How much does an office visit to your doctor cost?

Now why would the government consider doing something so supremely unwise? Aside from the fact that the nature of government is to involve itself in things with which it has no business, regulators regulate, it’s what they do.

The reason the FDA is considering this ridiculous invasion of government into the field of medicine is not to practice for when Obamacare does the same on a larger scale, it’s the default rationalization for government action the world over — the children. It seems some children, 1 in 12 by one count, are drinking a whole bottle at once to get high. But the FDA itself admits that “relatively few reports of serious abuse-related events involving DXM have been published.”

And today, the Center for Medicine in the Public Interest released a poll of police officers and high school teachers that found neither are terribly concerned about teens abusing cough medicine.  In fact, when asked an open-ended question about which “substances have the greatest effect on teens” only one percent of police officers and no high school teachers cited cough medicine.  And less than ten percent of both teachers (8%) and police officers (5%) think that cough medicine is the “most serious problem substance” for teens.

But even if action is still desired, there are many steps that can be taken short of requiring people to pay for a doctor’s visit to get a simple bottle of Robitussin. Senator Dick Durban (D-IL) has introduced the “Dextromethorphan Abuse Reduction Act,” which would require identification to be shown when purchasing cough medicines containing DMX, prohibiting their sale to anyone under age 18, along with some other regulations.  While I don’t think the government has any business regulating what should essentially be a parenting issue, it would be a lot cheaper for consumers than a doctor’s visit.

The FDA’s decision isn’t final, and the advisory committee meeting, where this issue will be considered, isn’t happening until September 14th.  But all signs, and the nature of regulators, point to action.

This is a prime example of how government works: it identifies a problem that impacts a tiny sliver of the population and imposes a “solution” on everyone under the guise of “it’s for the children,” or “it’s for your own good.”  Well it’s the job of parents to raise their children, and I haven’t had anyone tell me something was for “my own good” since I was child.

But that’s the real catch, isn’t it? That’s how government sees us, as children who are incapable of taking care of ourselves. Making cough medicine a prescription medicine is just the latest example of this nanny-state mentality. It’s not too late, but it’s getting later. Let’s hope someone in the chain of command at the FDA, in the Obama administration or in Congress comes to their senses soon and takes action to stop this ridiculous intrusion into our lives. After that, maybe rolling back government intrusions will become as pervasive as the FDA seems to think chugging DMX is. I doubt it, but we can dream.

Derek Hunter is a Washington based writer and consultant. He can be stalked on Twitter @derekahunter