America has a drug problem. I'm not just talking about illegal drugs, because while that's true too, but America has a larger drug problem. In 2007 there were 3.8 BILLION prescriptions filled in this country. That's a staggering number. If American's are taking that many drugs, and prescription drugs are such lifesavers you would think that means that we have the healthiest population in the world right? Well, that's not exactly the case. The U.S. ranks 45th in average life expectancy compared to other nations of the world. What has happened that's caused America to become so reliant on prescription drugs for all it's woes?
A health care system that writes 3.8 billion prescriptions in one year would seem to have glaring problems PREVENTING illness and disease in the first place. With the cost of health care being such an important subject in people's minds right now, shouldn't we be focusing our attention on preventing disease instead of treatment? Why isn't there more focus by the media and health care practicioners on how lack of proper nutrition affects the immune system? Too much sodium can increase blood pressure, vitamin D deficiency causes bones to soften, potassium deficiency can cause fatigue, heart deterioration and other problems. There are so many different vitamins and minerals that your body needs to function at it's best, and many people just aren't getting the information that they need about the proper foods to eat to maintain this balance. So when people don't have the information they need about proper nutrition, they are much more likely to have a compromised immune system which leads to sickness and disease. Which means they are going to go to their doctor for relief, which is usually administered in the form of a pill.
(As an aside, I know a lot of people think taking their daily multivitamin is enough to take care of this problem. Unfortunately a lot of the vitamins on the market are largely ineffective as the body can not absorb them. Waste treatment plants remove TONS of undissolved vitamins from their treatment plants every year. I'm not against all vitamins, just do some googling and some research and find a vitamin that your body can actually use)
Another reason that people have become so reliant on prescription drugs is the amount of advertising drug companies do. There are only 2 countries in the world that allow direct to consumer advertising of prescription drugs: The United States and New Zealand. In 2006, drug companies spent nearly 5 billion dollars on direct to consumer (TV, radio, magazine) ads. According to Congress' House Committee on Energy and Commerce panel's Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee every dollar spent on drug advertising leads to a $6 increase in drug sales. That's a pretty high rate of return. Another interesting thing about drug ads is that a study done by York University researchers found that in 2004 drug companies spent 24.4% of their total sales on advertising. They only spent 13.3% on research and development. Do you still think the drug companies are interested in saving lives and making people healthier when they spend almost twice as much money on advertising as they do research and development?
One of the problems I have with these ads is they try to make normal, everyday parts of life seem like things that need to be treated with a pill. Possibly for the rest of your life. Things like stress, anxiety, and depression are things that every person goes through during the course of their life, and for the majority of people are not problems that need to be addressed with a drug. Yes, I do realize that there are some people who have legitimate medical problems with stress, anxiety and depression but I find it hard to believe that millions of people need to take an anti-depressant pill every day of their life. Having stress, or being unhappy generally is a signal that something is wrong in your life that needs addressing. But now pills have become so readily available many people find it easier to go get a prescription rather than making the changes in their lives they need to make themselves happier.
I think this blog has laid out a good foundation for why America has become a nation of pill poppers. But there are plenty of other questions that need to be asked: Is America doing harm to itself putting so much of it's trust into drug makers? Is it wise for us to expect that all our health problems and all our worries can be solved by pills? What are the hidden costs of a society that consumes so many drugs? Stay tuned for my next post where I will attempt to answer those questions.