Friday, April 27, 2012

The Cure for the Common Hangover

The Cure for the Common Hangover:
Drink too much booze on Saturday night and it
doesn’t matter if you have a health insurance plan so comprehensive
it even covers distance Reiki
healing
: The American medical establishment is going to leave
you sweaty, trembling, and nauseous on Sunday morning. Oh, sure,
you can hit up 7-Eleven for some Hangover Joe’s Recovery Shots .
But it’s 2012, the age of bionic eyeballs and facelifts at the
mall
. While the imprimatur of the Warner Bros. licensing
department  lends Hangover Joe’s a certain medical authority,
is this product really the best solution that 21st century medical
technology can offer us?
Clearly Dr.
Jason Burke
doesn’t think so. A board-certified
anesthesiologist with a medical degree from the University of North
Carolina, Dr. Burke is, according to his website, the “first
physician in the United States to formally dedicate his career to
the treatment of hangovers.”
Earlier this month, he unveiled his new treatment clinic, a
45-foot-long tour bus emblazoned with soothing blue and white
graphics and his business’s name, “Hangover Heaven.” Inside the
bus, it looks like a cross between an ambulance and a conference
room at Embassy Suites. IV drips hang from the ceiling, patients
are swathed in blankets, but there are also spacious leather sofas
with built-in beverage-holders and flat-screen TVs. EMTs administer
relief to patients in the form of branded medical cocktails. The
$90 Redemption package contains one bag of saline solution,
vitamins, and an anti-nausea medication. The $150 Salvation package
includes a double shot of saline solution, the vitamins, the
anti-nausea medication and an anti-inflammatory as well.
In his day job as an anesthesiologist, Dr. Burke uses such
regimens to treat post-surgery patients suffering from dehydration,
nausea, and similar symptoms. Recognizing that they might prove
useful in other contexts too, he experimented on himself after a
night of revelry. The treatment worked, and soon he was wondering
if he’d stumbled into a potential business as well as a cure. At
first, he considered establishing a traditional office but
ultimately decided the costs associated with that were prohibitive.
“Being that this was a somewhat unique business idea, I didn’t want
to be on the hook for a five-year lease if the thing tanked,” he
says. So he decided to go mobile, purchasing a tour bus that
already had most of the accommodations he needed. “This way, if it
doesn’t work out, I can sell the bus.”
But if the risks of blazing new medical ground are high, so are
the potential rewards. According to
a study published in the November 2011 edition of the American
Journal of Preventative Medicine
(AJPM),
excessive alcohol consumption resulted in economic losses of
approximately $223 billion in 2006. Moreover, the study elaborated,
$74.1 billion of those losses resulted from impaired workplace
productivity. Another $4.2 billion in losses resulted from
workplace absenteeism. With so much money at stake, you’d think
there’d be more efforts to find effective treatments. And yet
because of the other costs associated with excessive alcohol
consumption—in the AJPM’s estimation, it leads to 79,000
premature deaths a year and generates approximately $45 billion a
year in healthcare and criminal justice costs—many medical
practitioners believe hangovers function as nature’s own aversion
therapy, a useful deterrent and punishment that discourages
subsequent alcohol consumption. In the opinion of some researchers,
a 2004 New York Times article reported , even just
studying the efficacy of hangover cures “raises ethical
issues.”
And yet what would happen if this prohibitionist mindset were
applied across the entire spectrum of medical treatment? Should
liposuction and bypass surgery be off-limits to anyone who ever ate
a donut? Should ultra-marathoners have access to Ibuprofen?
In Las Vegas, the prospect of eliminating hangovers—and the
productivity declines that come with them—is particularly
compelling. While $20 cocktails are a major part of the city’s
lifeblood, the fuel that keeps roulette wheels spinning and wedding
chapels open around the clock, they also exact an economic toll. A
tourist who spends all day in his hotel room, popping Excedrin and
dry-heaving to Dr. Phil, is a tourist who isn’t staring slack-jawed
at Criss
Angel’s illusions
or piloting race cars at Richard Petty’s
NASCAR fantasy camp . “If you’re only here for three days, and
you’re hungover one day, that’s a third of your trip that just went
poof,” Dr. Burke says. “This service is all about getting
people back to enjoying their vacation.”
Then there are the legions of radiologists, sportswear
retailers, and adult video producers who converge on the city each
year for trade shows. For them, a day lost to hangover recovery
could mean a squandered networking opportunity, a missed deal,
career sabotage. “There was a group of seven that came on our first
weekend,” Dr. Burke says. “They were here for an oil and gas
conference, and they
just brought their whole sales team on the bus. We treated them
all so they could make it back to their conference.”
The Hangover Heaven treatments take about 45 minutes and Dr.
Burke says that so far about 95 percent of his patients report
feeling significantly better afterward—a few recent customers felt
so good, in fact, that they went straight from the bus to the
thrill
rides
at the Stratosphere Tower.
Still, these cures have their limits. They can’t undo a DUI.
They can’t erase a facial tattoo. And as the Hangover Heaven
website disclaims, the service isn’t intended for emergencies or
serious medical conditions resulting from alcohol or long-term
alcohol abuse. In addition, a semi-exclusive door policy is in
effect. “We don’t just fire IVs and medicines into anybody that
shows up,” Dr. Burke says. “This is a real medical practice. We
don’t treat intoxicated people. We take a medical history and a
consent. If people have complicating medical conditions, like
diabetes or high blood pressure, we don’t treat them.”
Hangover Heaven also doesn’t take insurance. That means it’s
that relatively rare medical practice where consumers pay directly
for the services they desire. And because profit margins are thin,
Hangover Heaven won’t prosper unless the bulk of its customers find
the service effective, safe, and a good value. To ensure that they
do, it’s more consumer-oriented than many medical businesses,
emphasizing convenience, transparent pricing, and a commitment to
improving the customer’s experience. For example, because some
potential customers are wary of IVs, Dr. Burke’s exploring the
feasibility of offering oral treatments. In addition, he’s thinking
about converting the bus’s engine.
“I’m going to try to get the bus to run on biodiesel so that it
smells like bacon,” he says. No doubt some nay-sayers will question
the heart-healthiness of this move, but to Las Vegas visitors
looking for the most pleasant recovery process possible, such
touches no doubt bear the unmistakable scent of progress.
Contributing Editor Greg Beato writes from San
Francisco.