Art and Vickie McConnell are refusing to go away quietly. A few years ago, they watched helplessly as steroids poisoned and killed their nine year old daughter Lexie after only five weeks once the drugs left her without adequate immunity to fight of
They have organized an inquest, have called the police, are suing the doctor concerned, have launched a tireless and noisy campaign in the press. But they aren't stopping at that. The only thing that will make sense of their daughter's pointless death, they believe, is a change in the law, to make doctors more cautious and more open about handing out steroids to everybody.
These days, patients are supposed to be given a warning card, announcing that they are on steroids, which must not be abruptly stopped. Nevertheless, there is no law mandating it, and both doctors and chemists are lax about handing them out.
Meanwhile, many quarters are asking for more, rather than less, routine use of steroids, even on babies and children. The British Thoracic Society's guidelines on asthma management in childhood now emphasizes the importance of the early prescription of inhaled steroids. Recently, the BTS predicted that inhaled steroids would not only cut up to 75 per cent of hospital admissions but also lead to better lung function in the long term. The world's largest study of asthma, the recently launched Inhaled Steroid Treatment as Regular Therapy (START), will test the best way to use inhaled steroids in newly diagnosed asthma, using 7,000 people in 34 countries no doubt including a large number of children.
More or less singlehandedly, the McConnells have pushed for amending the current card, warning that patients on steroids must avoid close contact with people with chickenpox (or measles, also considered a risk) and checking their immune status to chickenpox (ie, if they've had it before). They're also pressing for a law that would make handing out the card mandatory, and also make it mandatory that the doctor sign the card after every single prescription and the chemist keep note of the card being handed out, thus making it impossible for patients not to be informed of dangers and doctors from writing automatic refill prescriptions. At the moment, a front bench Labour spokesman has written to the Department of Health, which is considering the card. At least 20 MPs have demanded more studies like the Canadian and Dutch studies (see cover story) demonstrating the true dangers of the drugs.
The mandatory card is a start in the right direction. Despite all the copious evidence demonstrating the swift and devastating dangers of steroids, in what Art McConnell terms a "collective psychosis," many doctors act as though they are safe and benign, even for children.
If medicine won't police itself on steroids, we've got to make it harder for doctors to dole them out without just cause. Write to your MP today, demanding that the card be made law and that studies be funded into the safety of steroids. Send them a copy of this month's cover story. Demand that all side effects be listed on that mandatory card.
Do it for Lexie.