Medicine is, of course, a holy alliance between doctor and patient, and the writing of the prescription little short of a sacrament.
So imagine the horror of United Airlines passengers in the US to be offered a bag tag which features an advert for Claritin (loratidine), the prescription hay fever treatment from Schering. Not only that, they can also claim a $5 rebate certificate if they telephone a freefone (toll free) number. The pitch is topped off with that immortal line from Irving Berlin: "Nothing but blue skies from now on."
What an airline is doing by pushing a prescription drug nobody is quite sure. Perhaps it's the start of a new form of medical diagnosis, where airline staff can help the overstretched medical establishment. Passengers who overindulge with the cream cakes while on board could be offered a cholesterol lowering drug, while those in a long queue at check in might be given a prescription for a stress reducer.
But before any airline goes too far down this path, it might want to check the safety of the drug to be promoted. In one study of 300 children aged between six and 12 given Claritin syrup, they were more likely than the placebo group to suffer nervousness, wheezing, fatigue, abdominal pain, conjunctivitis, malaise and upper respiratory tract infection.
Other adverse reactions, reported in fewer than 2 per cent of patients, have included flushing, back pain, eye pain, tinnitus, hypertension, hypotension, anorexia, constipation, toothache, vomiting, myalgia, insomnia, amnesia, and the list goes on. More seriously, perhaps, cases of hepatitis, jaundice and seizure have also been reported while people have been on the drug.
So, come fly the friendly skies of medicine. . .