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The Dark Side of Prescription Drugs

Posted on 06/26/2006

One of the many reasons I decided to learn more about using nutritional supplements to treat various medical problems 15 years ago was this: I was getting nervous about the medical profession’s over-reliance on prescription drugs.

“A pill for every ill” seems to describe much of health care today, and many of my patients tell me it seems every encounter with other doctors ends with some medication being dispensed. I actually remember a professor telling me, “The patient will feel cheated if she doesn’t get a prescription.”

The practice of trying to solve medical problems with pills is even more prevalent now than when I was in medical school years ago. These days, consumers are barraged by television ads extolling the virtues of drugs for everything from heartburn to happiness. Doctors are themselves besieged by pharmaceutical salespeople (drug reps) who swamp them with brochures, note pads, and embossed pens for the latest drug, often a copycat of another drug already on the market.

The result is that we’re taking far more prescription meds than we possibly could need. Consider these facts:

  • The Journal of the American Medical Association has reported that each year approximately 120,000 people DIE from correctly taken prescription drugs, usually from either a devastating side effect or a previously unknown allergy or an inappropriate combination of two or more drugs.
  • Most prescription medications are taken for what could be called lifestyle illnesses. Our unhealthful diets make us obese, raise our cholesterol and our blood pressure, and give us diabetes. Millions of patients are popping one or more pills, often several times a day, for each of these. Would you really need an expensive medicine for heartburn if you simply ate smaller meals earlier in the day and limited your coffee and alcohol? Are you one of the millions who smoke and carry an asthma inhaler in your purse? Are you using an overpriced arthritis “anti-inflammatory” that has been shown to be no more effective than aspirin?
  • Antibiotics, the cash-cow of the industry, are handed out like trick-or-treat candy, often when a doctor feels pressured by the patient. In actual fact, the average person probably needs antibiotics no more than six times in her entire life. Colds, flu, and bronchitis are virtually always caused by viruses, which are unaffected by antibiotics. If an antibiotic seemed to work for you once for one of these conditions, it was a placebo effect.

Given all this, you might want to review the meds you’re taking and ask your doctor why you’re taking each one. Then ask which drugs you can drop. Also, the very next time (and every time, for that matter) your doctor reaches for the prescription pad, say “Could we talk about some lifestyle changes first? I think I might be able to take care of this myself.”

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