A recent article in Popular Mechanics discussed what I see as the beginning of the end for modern medicine. The antivenom for coral snakes will pass its expiration date on October 31 of this year. After that, the only way to treat coral snake bites will be to put you on a ventilator for a couple weeks until the deadly neurotoxin works its way out of your system.
The reason for the lack of fresh antivenom is because it’s been discontinued here in the United States. Production cost exceeds profitability, since there are fewer than 100 coral snake bites annually. So the manufacturer quit making it sev- eral years ago.
The FDA has twice extended the expiration date on ex- isting supplies. That’s an FDA power I did not know about: refreshing stale medicine with a wave of its magic pen. There is an antivenom being produced in Mexico — Coralmyn — which cannot be sold in the United States without going through FDA approval, an expensive process, which again nobody wants to pay for, because you won’t get your invest- ment back.
But the FDA seems unwilling to wave its magic pen about that, so 100 people a year will be put onto ventilators unnecessarily. This tale should dissuade anyone who thinks bureaucracy can actually trim healthcare costs, since one ride on the ventilator could easily buy every bitten American a round-trip ticket to Mexico.
The strangest part about this story is that zoos have ac- cess to Coralmyn, but have no mandate to share it outside of their network. According to the author Glenn Derene, “Zoos and aquariums have a special exemption from the FDA for antivenoms.” So apparently the FDA isn’t beyond waving the pen, just not for you.
Hence, a word of warning to anyone who might stumble across a coral snake: if you’re going to get bitten, make sure it happens in a zoo. Otherwise, you’d better hope you have a