(916) 482-5200

America’s Doctor (part 2)

Published: July 28, 2010

In the second part of our interview with Dr. Dean Edell, America’s Doctor explains his views on the benefits of moderate alcohol use. Additionally, Dr. Dean Edell discusses the implications that medical professionals in the media have on society, and how sensationalist reporting can distort the science of medicine, and in fact be detrimental to public health.

RP: You have discussed alcohol use frequently on your program. It obviously causes a lot of social problems around the world. But you have noted it also has health benefits. You titled one of your books, Eat, Drink and Be Merry. A healthy attitude and moderate alcohol use seems to be a key, but that fact seems lost on many.

DE: I think it is lost; and there are broader implications. Alcohol is a good example of a mood-altering chemical: a drug that most people use, and use to benefit. Some abuse it. We don’t make alcohol unavailable because some do abuse it. This whole fiasco we have currently with investigating whether marijuana has medical properties is difficult because folks apply an inconsistent logic. Because it’s abusable, we should not look for usable functions in this interesting molecule? The same goes for opiates. Think about all the pain relief that comes with their use in medicine. Now, use that same logic. We should not use opiates in medicine, because some people abuse opiates? You go to the dentists and get lidocaine. The original research on local anesthetics was based on the cocaine molecule! We have to understand that every drug has good parts and bad parts. Just because some abuse a drug doesn’t mean it can’t be good. And, you know, we still have not officially made the recommendation that people should drink. I think a healthy recommendation is: if you drink lightly or moderately you have no reason to quit, but we’re not ready yet to tell people who eschew alcohol to take up the habit!

RP: You’ve been ahead of the curve on many occasions. In the ‘80s you spoke out on doctor’s use of opiates – or not using them as much as we should. In California restrictions on analgesics got so bad that the state finally mandated continuing education for doctors to remind them of our obligation to limit suffering. It must feel good to see that your perspective finally carried the day.

DE: That’s very kind, but I have a different reaction. You, as a physician, know that you could have opened a medical journal 20 or 30 years ago and in any of those issues seen clearly what science was saying. It’s not hard at all, it was just that some voices in the media were so loud they countered the voices of those who can see the trends and were trying to help people. What you say is absolutely true. Pain management education is now required for license renewal. Doctors felt guilty – or were accused of addicting people. We docs got afraid. There was a time, I remember, in that monthly bulletin we get from the Medical Board, where it said that if you are not careful, we’ll be knocking on your door! This intimidated doctors when it came to prescribing pain meds. This change has been a long time coming. Let’s hope fewer people suffer now. I would also just ask people to really think about who is telling them what they hear. Why does that person have that point of view? Doug, you are in the media, as I am. Forces act on us to create audiences; to be entertaining. Talk shows, Oprah, and all, head the same way. They take a sensationalistic approach because it brings in viewers. Unfortunately, one word from Oprah can take ten years worth of public health officials to undo. Oprah has a large burden for the misinformation that she has promulgated. People not vaccinating their kids, women taking phony-baloney herbs etc. She’s a huge force in our culture, unfortunately, she never went to med school, and doesn’t listen to anybody who did!

RP: I’ve always appreciated how YOU take the responsibility of a large audience seriously. In Eat, Drink and Be Merry you noted how you naively passed along the allegation that Bendectin [an anti-morning sickness medicine] was implicated in birth defects. It wound up getting taken off the market to the detriment of a lot of people, but financial benefit of a few lawyers.

DE: Good case in point. That was when I began in Sacramento 30 years ago. I allowed myself to be swayed by bad data. I’ve learned, as we all do, that I make mistakes. I’m not afraid of making mistakes. I’m sure you’re the same way. I learn from mistakes. This is the finest education I’ve had. It is not the fact that I went to a good med school – but rather doing radio. If I say something and anyone out there disagrees – if I’m talking about brain tumors, there are neurosurgeons listening – believe me, they let you know immediately. It’s instant feedback updating my knowledge about what’s going on, because I don’t have the time to read every medical journal. I’m always humbled by the times I’ve been wrong. I’m no genius – I just look at medical journals. I look at scientific information. It’s there. The truth, or as close as we can get, is there, not on talk shows or your local news.

The final installment of Dr. Doug’s interview will be ready and posted by the end of this week. In the mean time, be sure to comment on this interview, or bring your discussion over to the Sacramento Men’s Health Facebook page.