Since When Does Drug = Health?

In the last several decades, the US population has been inundated with enough pharmaceutical marketing that most Americans have completely changed their perception of health to a drug-based model.  It seems that everyone believes a pill can really be a quick-fix solution for health problems.

In just one decade, from 1992 to 2002, there was a 61% increase in the number of prescriptions written by US physicians.  During that same decade, opiate prescriotions skyrocketed by almost 400 percent.

Now, according to the Kaiser Health Foundation, US senior citizens fill more than 31 prescriptions per year on average. However, outrageous medication use is not only a problem in the elderly population.  Especially in the last several years, children as young as three are increasingly being prescribed four or more drugs.  For people between ages 19 to 64, statistics show they take more than 11 prescription drugs!

What most Americans fail to realize is that there are many problems with a drug-based health care model:

The problems with Big Pharma’s super-marketed medications are far worse than most people have ever imagined. In 2010, independent reviewers found that about 85 percent of new drugs offer few if any new benefits — but they carry the risk of causing serious harm to users.

Donald Light, Ph.D., a professor of comparative health policy at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, authored the study assessing the current state of the pharmaceutical industry.  Dr. Light’s paper, Pharmaceuticals: A Two-Tier Market for Producing ‘Lemons’ and Serious Harm draws conclusions from a wealth of data from independent sources and studies.

“Sometimes drug companies hide or downplay information about serious side effects of new drugs and overstate the drugs’ benefits.  Then, they spend two to three times more on marketing than on research to persuade doctors to prescribe these new drugs. Doctors may get misleading information and then misinform patients about the risks of a new drug.”

Hidden Risks

Risks of medications are most often hidden. Drug manufacturers often conduct multiple studies but pick and choose which to disclose.  Some companies have withheld studies showing unexpected risks or poor efficacy, which might limit use of a drug.  Furthermore, since many drug trials are inadequate, medication are most often approved before all of the consequences are even fully known.

Dr. Light exposes the way Big Pharma has manipulated society to rely on drugs that often have a low level of efficacy and often an outrageous risk of adverse and often severe side effects.  The proper drug trial procedure would be to put each new medication on the market using a controlled, limited launch which would allow evidence to be gathered about the drug’s effects, positive and negative. Instead, clinical trials are specially designed to minimize the evidence of harm.  Then, data from the trials are selected to be published in medical literature, mostly always only highlighting the drug’s advantages.  Next, pharmaceutical companies spend millions of dollars on massive campaigns to sell a new drug and recruit leading doctors to use the drug for conditions other than those for which it is approved.  By promoting such off-label and unapproved uses, drug companies can persue even more sales and physicians.  This combination builds a hugely hyped drug launch.

Drug manufacturers get away with selling many dangerous, ineffective drugs for three main reasons:

  1. The pharmaceutical industry has control over testing their own drugs.  There is no “third party” that acts independent and impartial.
  2. Pharmaceutical companies have invested millions to gain legal protection and the ability to NOT DISCLOSE information about a drug’s dangers or lack of effectiveness.
  3. The standards for new drug approval are fairly low to make it easier for new drug to be approved.

Interesting strategies are employed by drug companies to evade the extensive requirements for testing the efficacy and safety of each new medication.  According to Dr. Light drug companies often “swamp the regulator” with large numbers of incomplete, partial, and substandard clinical trials. For instance, in one study of 111 final applications for approval, 42% lacked adequately randomized trials, 40% had flawed testing of dosages, 39% lacked evidence of clinical efficacy, and 49% raised concerns about serious adverse side effects.

“The result is that drugs get approved without anyone being able to know how effective they really are or how much serious harm they will cause,” Dr. Light said. “The companies control the making of scientific knowledge and then control which findings will go to the FDA or be published.”

A prime example of how pharmaceutical companies push to market drugs as safe and effective while neglecting to acknowledge the fact they often harm far more people than they help is the statin drugs.  It is now evident that this harmful class of drugs causes everything from liver damage, acute kidney failure, and extreme muscle weakness to cataracts.

Rushed Drug Approvals

The combination of tight deadlines with the often inadequate and unrepresentative data  and the pace at which the Food and Drug Administration reviews drugs makes responsible decisions sometimes impossible. It has been repeatedly reported by FDA scientists that their bosses have pushed them to approve medications despite their concerns about safety.

How Many Drugs Is Too Many?

Another vastly underappreciated problem is the exponentially increased danger of mixing multiple drugs. Each year, there are more and more Americans that are at most risk simply because they are taking too many medications.  The more drugs you mix together, the greater the chances of serious side effects. People (of all ages) taking psychiatric drugs appear to be particularly prone to the disastrous effect of mixing drugs, which is particularly disturbing since each and every psychiatric drug is potent and potentially dangerous when taken all by itself.

Mixing too many prescriptions used to be primarily a concern for the elderly, who generally take more medications than the younger generations.  However, a growing number of younger people now take numerous medications daily. 

The True Consequence of Medication

A study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine in 2011 reveals that each prescription drug on the market has on average  70 known adverse side effects.

These findings were based on a study which involved more than 5,600 drug labels and more than half a million labeled effects.

Many more commonly prescribed drugs averaging around 100 side effects. The drug with greatest list of possible risk contained 525 possible reactions.

Overall, the greatest number of side effects was found in antidepressants, anti-viral medication and newer treatments for Restless Legs Syndrome and Parkinson’s disease.

When a person begins accumulates a list of medications they routinely take, it is untelling how many of the medications are simply needed to manage the side effects from other drugs.

America’s Consequence for Supporting a Drug-Based Health Model

The rate of prescription drug overuse not only wreaks havoc on the health, well-being, and longevity of the American population, it also has a major impact on our health care and economic systems.  In addition, to the almost ONE TRILLION dollars a year spent in America on medication, it is estimated that TENS OF BILLIONS are spent dealing with the unwanted and hazardous drug side effects.

Even more devastating is what we pay in the form of lost lives.

Opioid painkillers alone, like drugs that include morphine and codeine, are responsible for more than 13,800 deaths each year. This means prescription painkillers have surpassed both heroin and cocaine as the leading cause of fatal overdoses, despite the fact that the FDA increased the restrictions for consumer drug ads in 2005.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reports that adverse drug reactions from drugs that are properly prescribed and properly administered cause about 106,000 deaths per year.  This staggering number makes prescription drugs the fourth-leading cause of death in the United States. More than 700,000 people visit U.S. emergency rooms each year as a result of adverse drug reactions and are lucky enough to survive. 

This makes the number of deaths from illegal drugs, about 10,000 per year, seem very small in comparison to the magnitude of problems caused by pharmaceuticals.

A Prevalent Side Effect:  Death

In 2008, the Institute for Safe Medication Practices (ISMP) reported very shocking information.  In the first quarter of 2008, death as a side effect from prescription drugs  accounted for 23 percent of all adverse reaction reports!

To top it all off, the statistics we have for drug side effects are probably greatly undervalued.  The medical community is notorious for under-reporting adverse effects of their care.  What happens when patients complain that the drug is making them sicker or producing side effects? Studies show their doctors usually just discount or dismiss their complaints.

If you want true health, the only answer is to abandon the drug-based model of health care which has failed America miserably.