Taking a Closer Look at 'Cocktail' Therapies

By Nicholas Regush 16 February 2000

It is taking on the appearance of a mass slaughter. A drug induced-nightmare of unprecedented magnitude for many people who have tested HIV-positive.

They have strokes, heart attacks and suffer liver and kidney damage. They develop dangerously high cholesterol and diabetes. Some of them have suffered gross deformities.

All because of anti-HIV drugs, namely the nucleoside analogues and protease inhibitors that make up the so-called combination or cocktail therapies. A name more worthy of the toxic effects listed on the drug labels would be "medical poisons."

Also alarming is that many of those who develop these afflictions are symptom-free at the start. No sign of AIDS-related illnesses or infections. But because they turn up positive on an HIV antibody test, their doctors, following the herd, hit them "hard and early" with the cocktails. In fact, the major market targets for the makers of these drugs are those without symptoms. Pretty smart marketing, considering that many doctors will keep their patients on the cocktails even when their bodies begin to be ravaged by side effects and even after hospitalization. This is, of course, in the hope that somehow a miracle turnaround will occur and HIV will be neutralized.

Yes, there are those chronically ill people with AIDS who have reportedly arisen from their death beds once given the anti-HIV therapy. And because so much has been made of this by the press and the HIV medical establishment, it has not been easy to assess what is really going on here.

Drugs Have Anti-Viral Potential

First, these types of drugs do indeed have some anti-viral potential and in some cases might even function like antibiotics. This means that some of the viral and bacterial infections that AIDS represents might be neutralized, if only for a short period of time, before the toxic effects of the drugs take hold.

Second, these drugs have been poorly tested and their short-term effect has been inadequately associated with an impact on HIV. It has been AIDS scientist David Ho's ill-conceived contention that HIV replicates furiously in the body -- as measured by something called "viral load."

The drugs, he argued, could reduce this load, thus possibly neutralizing the virus. Unfortunately, the HIV viral load concept is a fantasy, if not a total absurdity. Using a tool to highly amplify what little remnants there might be of HIV in the blood, Ho has taken the grand leap to associate his approach as warranting early prescriptions of these highly toxic cocktails.

Because Time had the audacity to proclaim him "Man of the Year" in 1996, the press went wild in delivering messages of hope to those with AIDS. And on the basis of a handful of anecdotal cases of miraculous recoveries.

To date, there is still no study that any of these cocktails, separate or together can extend life. And contrary to those scientists who apparently still believe in the tooth fairy, there is no evidence that the use of these cocktails is related to the decline in AIDS deaths. Deaths due to AIDS were already declining in 1994, several years before the cocktails were shot out of a marketing cannon.

Now science must confront this ongoing travesty. Those in science and medicine who are perpetuating or condoning this passive genocide will one day be held accountable.

Nicholas Regush produces medical features for ABCNEWS. In his weekly column, published Wednesdays, he looks at medical trouble spots, heralds innovative achievements and analyzes health trends that may greatly influence our lives. His latest book is The Breaking Point: Understanding Your Potential for Violence; go here to preview his new book, The Virus Within: A Coming Epidemic.