The US has been one of three nations on earth that still ignores the metric system. Itís not that we donít ‘officially’ recognize it; technically it’s been considered a standard form of measurement in the USA for 147 years. However, from a practical standpoint, what we still rely on, and defend to no end, is primarily dubbed the Standard American System, or Standard for short.
However, for scientists and pharmaceutical companies, which have international bases and use the metric system in all their weights and measures, this is turning into quite a problem.
In a recent study in Pediatrics, parents trying to measure the metric-to-standard equivalents for dosage geo it wrong 40 percent of the time. Overdosing and under-dosing were both significant factors with another 40 percent of parents reading the instructions wrong, supplementing tablespoons for teaspoons.
The conclusion of the study is that we should switch to a metric-only medication format to prevent future dosage mistakes, which would mean a complete overhaul of our entire system.
In most pharmacies, the computers use the standard set of measurements to give dosing instructions, which can be especially problematic now that pharmaceuticals have all switched to metrics. It sets up a margin of error, which especially in children, can result in medication poisoning, hospital visits and severe stomach issues.
But this is hardly the first time concerns have been raised. Both the CDC and the FDA have advocated we change our dosage and pharmacy measuring systems to the metric system for some time. While they set up an entire list of recommendations which include integrating a dosage delivery device, with clear measurement instructions, and defining abbreviations (i.e. tps = teaspoon), so far they have gone unheeded.
For American companies that function overseas, there is always a conversion procedure that must take place. This goes not only for the scientists we send over there, but any firms we might create, any housing we might build. It all has to go through a standard conversion process before it can even start.
Of course itís understandable that when youíve grown up with inches you cannot simply switch overnight. However, metric proponents have discussed slowly integrating metric education and signage around the US. After all, itís very hard to have a global market and participate in a global economy if it takes 3 extra conversions every time you want to send a package overseas.
However, when it comes to manufacturing processes, it can become far trickier. A study run by NASA showed that to convert every measurement used in the Space Shuttle would actually cost more than the actual space shuttle itself Ė around $370 million dollars.
Some US companies have simply given up on the Standard system, and went metric anyway. Bicycle, soda, tool and film industries often ascribe both units of measurement to their product, in order to mitigate any issues that might come from using the Standard system alone.
However, in cases when it comes to our safety, it might be time to bite the bullet. Itís not that we still canít measure our distances by miles, or our square footage by feet. However, because the rest of the world will not change their pharmaceutical markings based on stubborn adherence to standard systems alone, itís time to give in and finally learn our metrics.
Because in this day and age, refusing to acknowledge the international standard could mean the difference between an ER visit and a smooth recovery.