By Dan Abshear
Almost on a daily basis, one may read about a new medication being developed or approved for the benefit of patients. At times, these announcements may praise the innovation and novelty of such drugs that are new and possibly available to all in need of it.
But it’s possible the one super drug is not new and really is a super drug. In fact, it’s one of the oldest medications available, and that would be aspirin- the first non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID).
Noted as ASA by doctors typically, aspirin effects have been noted for thousands of years, as the active ingredient comes from the bark of a White Willow tree, and long ago, patients with pain or a fever would chew on this bark for relief.
Fast forward to over a hundred years ago and Bayer pharmaceuticals (pronounced ‘Beier’), which is the same company that brought us heroin and mustard gas, as well as methadone. The company originated in Germany, but presently has its U.S. headquarters in New York. Felix Hoffman, seeking to develop an agent for his father’s rheumatism, was involved in the development of what is known now as aspirin. And it was a difficult task to develop this drug, as it was toxic to the stomach due to the nature of the active ingredient again obtained from the bark of the white willow tree. Dr. Hoffman and others at Bayer developed a drug that proved to be tolerable to patients while keeping the active ingredient in tact through a method of delivery developed by Dr. Hoffman’s team at Bayer. After launching the medication, aspirin was priced at about 50 cents an ounce, as at the time it was only available in power form. Soon before 1920, aspirin developed the tablet form of the drug and was then available by prescription. Regardless, aspirin was responsible for one third of sales for Bayer during this time, due to its popularity at that time.
While all drugs have side effects, aspirin is one of very few drugs that provides great efficacy and indications, with limited side effects. In fact, some of aspirin’s additional uses have been recently discovered. This may be why the New York Times called aspirin a wonder drug in the 1960s. In the 1970s, the mechanism of aspirin was isolated, which is the blockage of prostaglandins.
With Aspirin and its potential life-extending benefits:
Aspirin has been associated with decreased risk of asthma and prostate cancer in the elderly. Also, aspirin has been linked with lowering the risk of breast cancer and colon cancer as well. Aspirin is a blood thinner, and has been associated with decreasing the risk of heart attacks and strokes in certain patient populations, as the drug prevents clots. This was first suggested in the 1940s and the FDA suggested that it be the drug of choice for those who experienced a heart attack over a decade ago. Aspirin intake is beneficial for those after coronary bypass procedures. A topical formulation of aspirin was developed recently for those experiencing Herpes pain. The drug has been proven beneficial for those experiencing migraine pains. Aspirin at low doses is taken by many as a preventive drug to decrease cardiovascular incidents that may occur.
Aspirin has been the best selling painkiller since the 1950s. It is not as addictive as other choices for patients regarding pain relief in particular. It is also the most studied drug- with over 3000 scientific papers published worldwide. Also, over 15 billion tablets of aspirin are sold annually, which amounts to about 80 million aspirin tablets consumed daily by others. This amounts to over 16,000 tons of aspirin consumed during this time, or about 70,000 metric tons of aspirin a year. Over a decade ago, a study was performed and concluded that twice as many people would choose aspirin over a computer, given the two choices, because of the benefits of the drug.
Side effects would include GI bleeding if taken in large amounts, along with an association of Reye’s syndrome in children, yet both are relatively rare. Yet all things considered, clearly the benefits of aspirin outweigh any risks of the drug.
Lately, there have been issues with other NSAIDs, such as Cox II inhibitors, without full recollection or knowledge that aspirin is in fact the world’s most widely used drug, and for good reasons.
At times, something newer is not always better
“We might die from medication, but we sure killed all the pain.” — Conor Oberst
Disclosure: Author was formerly an employee in the pharmaceutical industry (sales) and is currently seeking employment in the same industry.