Sunday, June 28, 2009

How did America get so hooked on pills?

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.



  1. I agree that prescription drug use has gotten completely out of control. One thing you didn't mention is the amount of people who claim to have issues just to get their hands on drugs. For example, the number of people who claim to be ADD/ADHD in order to get a prescription to Adderoll that they can then sell for a nice little profit. I know there are people who legitimately need medication for ADD/ADHD, but I personally know a lot who even though they might need it, sell the majority of their prescription.

    I also think that a lot of people believe they have problems and take medication for things that aren't really necessary. My "friend" (not to name names)for example, takes her nightly cocktail of medication before bed. While I know that she does have some problems she needs medication for, I also wonder if some of her health problems could be solved by drinking more water instead of her 20 diet cokes a day and eating something more substantial than a bowl of popcorn for dinner.

    One aspect of this I do have to disagree with though is medication for depression. I'm sure there are people mis-diagnosed with depression and who don't need to be on medication for it. However, in my experiences, and I've had multiple, people who deal with depression truly do need something more than a change of lifestyle to get better. While a change of lifestyle might help, and definately couldn't hurt, many people who suffer from depression lack the motivation to make those changes in the first place. Until you or someone you know suffers from depression it's easy to say that they just need to get up and be active, get out of the house, exercise, eat better, etc. While a person suffering from depression should do all of those things, its not always that easy. That being said, I think that people who suffer from depression should start with the medication and use that to give them the motivation they need to change their lifestyle. Then they can begin weening themselves off the medication. Unfortunately, I don't think a lot of people do that. I think a lot of people turn to the medication to solve their problems and then continue using it without changing their lifestyle, and upping the dosage when they have more problems.

    Anyway, I don't really have any answers, but those are my thoughts on the subject :)

  2. i agree with you. i think people not only take prescription drugs too much, but other over the counter medicines also. i know sometimes they are necessary, but i think we rely on them too much. if you have a headache its your body telling you you need something, and that something is usually water, not advil.

  3. A lot of over the counter drugs are really nasty when it comes to wreaking havoc on the immune system.

  4. Americans live a stressful, lonely and alienating life. They can't count on their friends to be there when they need help. Society blames the individual for his/her failure and there is no sympathy for the down and out. So what does the individual do? DRUGS
    It will take a total change of lifestyle and philosophy to alter that trend. Don't bet on it.