Hitting a Nerve

Holding out hope for ambroxol


How many of you hadn’t heard of ambroxol until the last few weeks?

How many of you have gotten at least one call asking for a prescription for it in that time?

I’ll raise my hand on both accounts.

Dr. Allan M. Block, a neurologist in Scottsdale, Ariz.

Dr. Allan M. Block

Ambroxol seems relatively innocuous – an over-the-counter cold medication commonly used on planet Earth (though not approved in the U.S. for whatever reason). But in the last few years some interesting data have cropped up that it may help with Parkinson’s disease.

“May” being the key word here.

Now, I’m not saying it will or won’t do something. The trials that are being started will show that. It would be totally awesome if it did.

But we’ve been here before: The hope that some old, inexpensive, and widely available medication would turn out to have an amazing benefit we didn’t anticipate. We saw this with hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin during the pandemic. Before that we saw all kinds of speculative ideas that statins would be effective for diseases from multiple sclerosis to Alzheimer’s disease.

And, as with many incurable diseases, patients and their families are hoping for a breakthrough. We have plenty of treatments for Parkinson’s disease, but no cures yet. So any potentially effective drug news makes the rounds quickly on news sites, patient advocacy sites, Facebook, and others.

Like the childrens’ telephone game, each time the story is repeated it changes a bit. We’ve gone from an article saying the drug is starting clinical trials to see if it works, to it being a cure now on the marketplace.

Which is when people start calling my office. Most are disappointed to learn that its benefit (if any) is unknown and that it’s not even available. A few get confrontational, accusing me of withholding treatment, when “everyone knows” the drug works.

Believe me, if I had a cure I’d be thrilled to be able to offer it.

I understand that patients and families want a cure.

I understand hope.

I want ambroxol to work for Parkinson’s disease and make a huge difference in the lives of those affected by it. Maybe it will. Or maybe it won’t.

But these things take time to figure out. None of the amazing medications and hi-tech toys we have came about overnight. They were all years in the making.

That’s how science works, and medicine is as much a science as an art.

The art is being able to explain this to patients, and still allow them to hope.

Dr. Block has a solo neurology practice in Scottsdale, Ariz.

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