"While findings suggest that growth hormone may play some role in fighting aging, small improvements in strength and endurance may not make much of a difference in performing daily tasks. Additionally, during the study eighteen men taking growth hormone developed either diabetes or glucose intolerance, compared with seven men not taking growth hormone. Other side effects, which were most common in men, included swelling of the arms and legs… Growth hormone is also known to raise blood insulin levels, which may promote breast and prostate cancers."
~ Joseph Mercola from "Growth Hormone No Fountain of Youth"
Sylvester Stallone recently got pinched for having 48 vials of human Growth Hormone (hGH) and supposedly attempting to "import" it into Australia. Apparently having this prescription drug and/or "banned substance" without actually having a prescription for it constitutes a crime. Let's forget about whether or not he was in Australia or the U.S. for a moment, because frankly, that part is largely irrelevant. The relevant thing to understand is this: the State says this activity — possessing a prescription drug without a prescription — is illegal. Why? Who cares?
Ironically, this is the same State that allows drug companies to market birth control pills under the premise that one of the side effects — reduced periods — is actually a benefit for taking them. (In fairness, some studies have suggested that women want to have shorter periods, so who am I to question this desire?) While one could question the possibly biased nature of both the linked press release and the referenced study, it still stands to reason that some number of consumers would respond to the convenience inherent in such a treatment.
That said, how could the State simultaneously worry if Sly or anyone else consumes hGH off-prescription? This is the same State that allows a failed heart medicine — Viagra — to be marketed under the premise that one of its side effects, an iron-hard erection, is actually the primary reason one should take it. Puh-lease. Let Sly have his hGH already. (How can we expect the guy to successfully film Rocky 17: Balboa's Revenge otherwise?) What makes a drug worthy of prescription-only use anyway? I'd assert that designating a drug as prescription-only is of specific value to Big Pharma, and has no value to the consumer whatsoever.
The Simple Truth
I had initially planned to dig up all manner of compelling statistics, facts, and other whatnottery about hGH. (Statistics always make good copy.) I realized that was unnecessary though. The basic truths of the matter are:
- Whose decision should it be to use hGH? The user.
- Who is physically harmed if hGH is dangerous? The user.
- Who is financially harmed if hGH is obtained without a prescription? The drug manufacturers.
Therefore, why is the possession or use of hGH (without a prescription) illegal? Possession of hGH is illegal because it protects the profits of the drug companies. These companies have successfully lobbied law-makers and convinced them to turn the guns of the State upon us, supposedly upon our behalf, while we pay for it.
That's it; end of story. We pay tax dollars for enforcement, control, convictions, etc. so that the drug companies can be protected from loss of profit. Prescriptions are, in effect, a flavor of IP (intellectual property) protection for the drug companies. As such, they control both the access to and maybe even the creation of competing products. Is that justifiable under libertarian thought? I think not.
What about the bad side effects? Who will protect us from dangerous drugs? Again I ask, "Who cares?" (I will admit, other than the side effects mentioned by Dr. Mercola in the quote above, I was relatively unfamiliar with the exact side effects of long-term, routine use of hGH.) From the standpoint of freedom, personal responsibility, and my view of libertarian law, any possible side effects are irrelevant issues — fun facts to know and tell — at best.
If you want to shrink your testicles, grow a patch of hair between your eyebrows or a full-fledged hedge of curly locks out of your ears, or develop a third eye, that's your decision to make. The person having the ultimate responsibility best weighs the risks and benefits of any such action. Anyway, who's to say uni-brows won't catch on? Maybe smaller testicles will result in some heretofore obscure benefit. (Hey, you never know.)
The bottom line is: It's not my decision to make. I can't decide for you. You can't decide for me. The State — composed of people just like you and me — can't decide for either of us. The argument from morality is in full effect.
As an aside, let's look very quickly at sports and the usage of drugs like hGH. Sports already operate via specific, agreed-upon, voluntary rules for all participants. Why should drug use be any different? Deciding that members of the National and American Leagues cannot use steroids or hGH is no more complicated than deciding that a batter is out after three strikes. If these drugs are bad, in the purview of those controlling a sport, or if using them somehow hurts the game, simply say so. If some baseball player(s) with inordinately large bodies (or heads) are stricken from the record books, what's the loss? No one is forced to play baseball, and almost any decision handed down by those in charge can be made to stick. (In no case does Congress need to weigh in on "the integrity of the game" or some such lunacy, although those "hearings" are good for a few laughs.)
If it sounds like I'm suggesting that the ingestor should make the decisions about what to ingest, when to ingest it, and for how long it should be ingested, my point is made. However, just to be clear, I'm not suggesting that we all play amateur pharmacist. I'm suggesting that the issue of prescription drugs is simply a variant on the general issue of vices: smoking, drug use, drinking, and sex for money, etc. As Spooner already eloquently stated, "vices are not crimes." Prescriptions seem to exist for two reasons. One: to control access to drugs that drug manufacturers want to market exclusively. In effect the State is helping Big Pharma maximize the profits on whatever item they are hocking. Two: to protect the ignorant public from improperly using the drugs. In effect the State is saying that they can better decide for us than we can decide for ourselves.
This second benefit is suspect at best. Otherwise a drug could never come off prescription-only use, and of course, they do that all the time. If the public's impression and understanding of drugs were so suspect, one might think that marketing directly to the consumer would not be ethical. Surely, if I cannot be expected to properly use a drug on my own, trying to convince me of their efficacy via advertising preys on the same weakness. (The U.S. is one of the few countries that allow drug companies to market directly to the consumer, while simultaneously regulating the market heavily. This type of good news / bad news is common in a statist republic such as the U.S.)
The fact that it's apparently okay to beseech the consumer directly — based upon all the commercials suggesting that I "ask my doctor" — while simultaneously controlling access to the market via heavy regulation, tells me all I need to know about who these laws really protect.
Wilt Alston [send him mail] lives in Rochester, NY, with his wife and three children. When he's not training for a marathon or furthering his part-time study of libertarian philosophy, he works as a principal research scientist in transportation safety, focusing primarily on the safety of subway and freight train control systems.