Confusing workplace safety with patient safety and drug efficacy: Mike Adams brings the stupid home again

Wendy, I’m home.

Oh, wait a minute. I’m not that crazy. Yet.

Sometimes, though, it does seem as though the constant barrage of quackery, anti-vaccine pseudoscience, and pseudoscience in general might drive me to become like poor Jack Torrence of the Stephen King novel and movie The Shining. Fortunately for me, I discovered that there really are people out there who share my passion for science and reason and my dislike of woo. Unfortunately, I waited several years before venturing forth to gatherings of like-minded (and sometimes not-so-like-minded) skeptics to meet people in person and start to do something more than just blog. Don’t get me wrong, blogging is something I love to do, and somehow through it I’ve managed–gasp!–to become fairly popular in the medical blogosphere. But something was missing, and that something was the human touch, the fun of face-to-face wrangling and sometimes arguing with my fellow skeptics. It’s also opened the door to other opportunities, including giving talks and interviews.

So, after coming home from Vegas last night, I was all fired up. I wanted to take a scientific paper or issue and do an in depth discussion. Unfortunately, my trip home wasn’t exactly smooth. Not only was the flight late because of a mechanical problem with the emergency slide on one door, which ended up having to be replaced, but then a passenger became ill, provoking one of those dreaded requests of, “Is there a doctor on the plane?” Fortunately, there were, including me, and, even better, there was a physician who was more suited than I to handle the nature of the medical problem the passenger had. Then, as we approached the airport, we had to go into a holding pattern for a while because there were storms going through. Then after landing we got to drive for a while through a torrential downpour, only to see that our lawn was all trashed, thanks to the incompetence of our lawn service. So by the time I got home the spirit was willing but…well, the spirit wasn’t all that willing anymore because I was so damned tired.

It’s a good thing there’s always Mike Adams to provide me with blogging material that’s so brain dead, so monumentally full of flaming stupid, that it requires no effort to deconstruct. Slumming? Yeah, this time I guess so, but I hope you’ll forgive me just this once.

As if I won’t do it again sometime when the situation demands.

In any case, while I was on the plane, everyone’s favorite Quackmeister Supreme, second in line only to Joe Mercola for the regular promotion of pure quackery on the Internet, Mike Adams, dropped a steaming, stinking, Ecuadorian jungle turd on his website entitled Pharmacists give themselves cancer from dispensing toxic chemotherapy chemicals. It’s beyond a black hole of stupid, sucking all science, reason, and intelligence out of the surrounding sector of space. In fact, intellectually speaking it’s the equivalent of the collapse of all matter in the universe back into the singularity from which it emerged. Adams begins, as usual, with a lie. Actually, it’s either pure delusion or a lie; I have a hard time telling the difference with Adams:

One of the side effects of chemotherapy is, ironically, cancer. The cancer doctors don’t say much about it, but it’s printed right on the chemo drug warning labels (in small print, of course). If you go into a cancer treatment clinic with one type of cancer, and you allow yourself to be injected with chemotherapy chemicals, you will often develop a second type of cancer as a result. Your oncologist will often claim to have successfully treated your first cancer even while you develop a second or third cancer directly caused by the chemo used to treat the original cancer.

There’s nothing like cancer-causing chemotherapy to boost repeat business, huh?

Yes, the stupid definitely burns. It brands those who read it with a big red “S” across the chest. Meanwhile, Adams must have been branded with a big read “S” on his forehead. Either that, or a big read “L” for liar. For one thing, oncologists don’t “hide” the risks of chemotherapy, including the possibility of secondary malignancies. Second, it’s not “often” that cancer patients develop secondary malignancies attributable to chemotherapy (or radiation therapy, for that matter). In fact, if you search PubMed for “secondary malignancy chemotherapy,” you’ll find over 8,000 references. For the most part, the risk of secondary malignancies attributable to chemotherapy is a problem with the treatment of childhood malignancies. Saying so is not in any way meant to downplay the risk, but here’s something that needs to be remembered. These children would die of their disease without treatment. With treatment, they have an 80% or better chance of surviving, but one of the risks of surviving is a small risk of a secondary malignancy. It’s a tradeoff, I daresay, that any parent would accept for her child. Even in adults, where for some cancers the benefits of chemotherapy are more modest (but nonetheless real), again it’s often a very reasonable tradeoff: Survival now for the price of a small risk of a secondary malignancy 20 years from now.

Of course, reason and subtleties were never Mike Adams’ strong points, as he demonstrates by abusing the case of Sue Crump, a pharmacist who handled chemotherapy drugs and ultimately developed pancreatic cancer and died. Hers is a very, very sad case. There’s no doubt about it. It truly sucks that she died prematurely of pancreatic cancer. However, this is a classic case of correlation not necessarily equaling causation. It is possible that Crump’s pancreatic cancer might have been due to her occupational exposure to chemotherapeutic drugs, but it is more likely that it was not, given that the risk factors for pancreatic cancer are fairly well known, including chronic pancreatitis, smoking, family history, and some other factors. As is the case with many cancers, most patients with pancreatic cancer don’t have any identifiable risk factors.

Now here’s where Adams makes an astonishing claim:

The Occupational Safety and Health Association (OSHA), it turns out, does not regulate workplace exposure to toxic, cancer-causing chemotherapy chemicals. At first glance, that seems surprising, since OSHA regulates workplace exposure to far less harmful chemicals. Why not chemo?

Quite simply, this is not true. There are most definitely guidelines in the U.S. for the safe preparation, dispensing, and administration of hazardous medications coming from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP), Oncology Nursing Society (ONS), and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). In fact, OSHA has rather detailed section in its technical manual entitled Controlling Occupational Exposure to Hazardous Drugs that encludes extensive guidelines for handling and preparing chemotherapy drugs, as well as cleaning up spills when they occur. Of course, Mike Adams is lying, as usual. Even the primary source that he uses to claim that OSHA “does not regulate” exposure to chemotherapy drugs states that it in fact does. The problem, if the article is to be believed, is that OSHA may not be stringent or aggressive enough in doing so. In fact, this source even quotes Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA Jordan Barab:

Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA Jordan Barab said in written response to questions from InvestigateWest that the agency doesn’t have resources to regulate workplace drug exposures, although it is concerned about the issue. “Although this is an important safety and health issue, OSHA has not considered a standard to specifically address hazardous drugs in the healthcare setting,” he wrote.

This may be a real problem, but it seems to be more due to lack of resources than the reason Adams invokes:

The answer is because the toxicity of chemotherapy has long been ignored by virtually everyone in medicine and the federal government. It has always been assumed harmless or even “safe” just because it’s used as a kind of far-fetched “medicine” to treat cancer. This, despite the fact that chemotherapy is a derivative of the mustard gas used against enemy soldiers in World War I. Truthfully, chemotherapy has more in common with chemicals weapons than any legitimate medicine.

No, chemotherapy has not been assumed to be “harmless” or “safe” for workers to prepare. That’s just Mike Adams’ fantasy view. He’s also either incredibly ignorant or intentionally inflammatory when he states that chemotherapy is a derivative of mustard gas. Some chemotherapy is, such as cyclophosphamide, and melphalan), but these days most chemotherapy is not. Not even close. Adams, as is usual with him, is simply using the scariest language he can come up with to demonize chemotherapy. Language like this:

The cancer industry, though, has never stopped injecting patients long enough to ask the commonsense question: Why are we in the business of dispensing poison in the first place? Poison, after all, isn’t medicine. Not when dispensed in its full potency, anyway.

The whole idea of “safety” in the cancer industry is to find new ways to protect the health care workers from the extremely dangerous chemicals they’re still injecting into the bodies of patients. Something is clearly wrong with this picture… if health care workers need to be protected from this stuff, why not protect the patients from it, too?

The reason we dispense “poison” to cancer patients is because it works. We know it works through science and clincial trials. Interestingly, though, I see something from Adams that I’ve never seen before in this passage. Note how he actually qualifies his usual “chemotherapy is poison” rant. Believe it or not, Adams seems to show an actual recognition that the dose makes the poison when he says, “Poison, after all, isn’t medicine. Not when dispensed in its full potency, anyway.”

Well, duh! This is something every physician knows. All drugs are in essence poisons; it is the dose that determines whether they are ineffective, therapeutic, or toxic. It’s something so simple that it’s taught the first day of medical school, but coming from Adams it seems revelatory. Well, not really. It just seems a shockingly nearly sane addendum to a sentence full of Adams’ usual anti-medicine craziness. Too bad Adams then moves on to this:

In contrast to all this, consider the truthful observation that no naturopath ever died from handling medicinal herb, homeopathy remedies or nutritional supplements. These natural therapies are good for patients, and as a bonus, you don’t have to wear a chemical suit to handle them.

Furthermore, medicinal herbs, supplements and natural remedies don’t cause cancer. They support and protect the immune system rather than destroying it. So they make patients healthier and more resilient rather than weaker and fragile.

Of course, homeopathy is safe. It’s water. It would be very unusual for a homeopath to be poisoned by water. As for medicinal herbs, not all of them are entirely benign. In fact, some of them can be quite dangerous, such as the foxglove plant. In fact, many of these horrifically “toxic” chemotherapy agents come from natural plants, drugs such as vincristine, Taxol, campothecin, irinotecan. These are powerful drugs from nature itself, and they have powerful effects. If you’re going to handle water or herbs without any demonstrable effects against cancer, you’re unlikely to be harmed, but you’re also unlikely to help cancer patients. I wish it were otherwise, but it isn’t, Adams’ rants otherwise notwitstanding. And, not surprisingly, Adams ignores the fact that “natural” products can be deadly, as a recent story from China demonstrates.

One thing that Adams does that drives me crazy is to cite various studies without any names of investigators or citations. I did a brief attempt to look a couple of them up, but I got tired and decided that I’d try again later. Even if the results of all of these studies were accurate, then what it would argue for is not giving up the use of chemotherapy, as Adams rants, but stricter regulations governing workplace safety where chemotherapeutic agents are prepared and administered. Adams doesn’t see that because he’s too busy using this story as an excuse to engenge in one of his patented tirades against the “cancer industry.” He even calls the cancer industry “quackery,” and yet another one of my irony meters died in flames, as Adams regurgitated the long-debunked myth promoted by cancer quacks that chemotherapy only benefits 2% of cancer patients. I’ve discussed this particular myth in detail before; so there’s no need to rehash it now. It’s one of those unsinkable rubber ducks of myths that no amount of debunking seems to kill. No wonder Adams can say things as mind-meltingly dumb as:

This is not an idle question. It is perhaps the most important question of all for someone considering conventional cancer treatment using chemotherapy. The question is essentially this: If chemotherapy causes cancer, how can it treat cancer?

One can’t resist asking homeopaths how like cures like. I know, I know, homeopathy is nonsense and this argument doesn’t prove anything, but, given that Adams believes in homeopathy, it’s hard not to ask in this context. But that isn’t the funniest thing that Adams spews. This is:

Treating cancer with chemotherapy is like treating alcoholism with vodka. It’s like treating heart disease with cheese, or like treating diabetes with high-fructose corn syrup. Cancer cannot be cured by the very thing that causes it.

Homeopathy. I know. I can’t help it, and I know that chemotherapy doesn’t work like homeopathy. It consists of actual drugs whose mechanisms are grounded in science, not sympathetic magic. Adams, however, just can’t see how his claim that cancer drugs can’t possibly work because they “cause” cancer (which they only do a very small percentage of the time) doesn’t exactly jibe with his belief in homeopathy, but then consistency never was part of Adams’ message other than consistent hatred of “conventional” medicine coupled with neuron-apoptosing ignorance.

Here’s where Adams gets vile (big surprise):

And to those who deal in poison, watch out for the cause-and-effect laws of biology. If you deal in chemotherapy chemicals, don’t be surprised if you get cancer one day. If you deal in chemical pesticides, don’t be surprised if you get Alzheimer’s. If you’re a dentist installing mercury fillings in the mouths of clients, don’t be surprised if one day you just go stark raving mad (because mercury causes insanity, and dentists breathe in mercury vapor thrown into the air from their drills).

If you work around chemicals, they will eventually impact your health, and never in a good way. There’s a karmic element in all this, too: If you spend your life dishing out chemotherapy drugs as a pharmacist, you have a lot to answer for. You have been an enabler of a very real chemical holocaust against the people. Don’t be surprised if that holocaust turns against you one day. Karma tends to work that way. Cause and effect is a universal law that cannot be escaped.

Funny Adams should invoke karma. Karma’s a bitch, and if karma exists it would see to it that Mike Adams gets cancer himself, a treatable, potentially curable cancer (with science-based oncology, of course). Then karma, if it existed, would make sure that Adams wastes every last penny he has on the quackery that he has promoted on his website for years until his cancer advances to the point where it’s stage IV and beyond cure. Then, on his deathbed, he’d realize that he didn’t have to die, that science-based medicine could have cured him if he had just pursued it.

Not that I’d wish that on anyone. Not even Mike Adams. If karma truly existed, though, that’s what would happen to Adams some day.

More likely, though, Adams will die old, fat, and happy, rich from the proceeds of fleecing believers in alt med who do throw away their chance for a cure of their cancers along with huge sums of money on the sort of quackery that Adams promotes on his website.