America: A heavily medicated nation

Dan Lucas_July 2012_BW

by Dan Lucas

Several years ago I ran for state representative in a deep blue suburb of Portland. At the time, I had a very naïve view of politics and didn’t understand the significance of voter registration advantages at all. My opponent, who is now running for state treasurer, cruised to an easy victory. I have no regrets. Despite the very sharp sting of a public loss, I learned by immersion things about Oregon politics that would have taken me much longer to learn any other way.

One of the many experiences I came away with was a particular meeting with lobbyists. We were at a cattle call in the upstairs area of a Salem restaurant on filing day. We were “speed dating” lobbyists. Some were conservative-friendly and were very polite and kind because I’m a conservative. Many were more mercenary and would politely excuse themselves as soon as they found out what district I was running in. Two were quite special, though.

It felt like a chill entered the room when they came in. I’ve never really experienced anything like it. These were two of the scariest people I’ve ever met. They felt “East Coast” and they very much felt like individuals I would never want to cross — like human sharks. They were completely dismissive and looked right through me as soon as they found out what district I was running in. At the time I thought I needed their support but I was actually relieved when they moved on.

They were pharmaceutical lobbyists.

These days whenever I watch TV I’m barraged with a battery of strange commercials for drugs with odd names and equally odd cartoon characters that move at a pace studies must have found was non-threatening to heavily medicated viewers. I guess they’re attempts by the pharmaceutical industry to bypass an 11-to-16 year medical education with a 30-second commercial. Why on earth are these companies advertising directly to consumers?

A Mayo Clinic study reported that annual spending on prescription drugs reached $250 billion in 2009. That’s a lot of people taking prescription drugs. Based on the study, 13 percent of Americans are taking antidepressants, 12 percent are taking opioid pain killers (related to morphine/heroin), 7 percent are taking beta blockers and related medications, and 6 percent are taking sedatives.

With a current U.S. population of 320 million, that’s 42 million Americans on antidepressants, 38 million on opioid pain killers, 22 million on beta blockers and 19 million taking sedatives.

Additionally, the Mayo Clinic study noted “Prescription drug abuse has become the fastest-growing drug problem in the United States.” A 2013 study found that Oregon was number one in the country for the abuse of prescription pain killers.

Add to that the number of people who use illegal drugs and those who overuse alcohol. CNN reported in 2011 “More than 22 million Americans age 12 and older use illegal drugs, according to the government’s 2010 National Survey on Drug Use and Health.” CNN also reported “Nearly a quarter of the population age 12 and older participated in what the study calls binge drinking, or having five or more drinks in the same occasion, at least once in the past month,” and “more than 11 percent of the population drove under the influence of alcohol in the year before the study.”

It’s a little bit frightening to contemplate how many of our neighbors and fellow citizens are driving the same roads and voting in the same elections who may be doing so while heavily medicated.

To read more from Dan, visit www.dan-lucas.com

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Posted by at 05:00 | Posted in Drug Abuse | 19 Comments |Email This Post Email This Post |Print This Post Print This Post
  • Dave Lister

    I have thought for a long time the best way to bring down the cost of health care is to ban TV advertising of prescription drugs. They invent a drug, invent a disease to go with it and then back door the demand through advertising.

    • thevillageidiot

      banning advertising would not reduce the cost of medications. eliminating the FDA, Changing the rules that proper nutrition also cures and prevents diseases at a substantially reduce cost, although is may not be immediate. Getting the government out of the drug business will reduce the costs.

      • Dave Lister

        I think banning the ads would help, because doctors have told me that the old tried and true generic remedies work just fine for many ailments, but big pharma gins up demand for the new, designer drugs which are much more expensive.

        • DavidAppell

          Bull. No “tried and true” remedy for high blood pressure works like beta blockers do.

          These drugs are popular for a reason: doctors and patients think they work to alleviate suffering.

          • redbean

            Beta-blockers are available in generic form, so they’re more along the lines of the “tried and true remedies” that Dave mentioned. The “designer drugs” come out when the patent expires for the “tried and true.”

      • Eric Blair

        We had that for awhile… so what do we do when medications aren’t safe, and big pharma doesn’t want to warn people and cut into their profits. It’s been known to happen you know. Regulation didn’t happen in a vacuum.

        • redbean

          Harmful regulatory errors include, 1) unsafe drugs that pass FDA muster, and 2) safe drugs that are withheld despite evidence of safety and effectiveness in other countries.

          If the FDA makes the first type of error, everyone knows about it. Both the drug maker and the FDA get black eyes (except in the case of vaccines – manufacturers have been protected since the 1980s and victims are quietly paid off by the taxpayers).

          The second type of error also can lead to many deaths. These invisible victims either die before the approval process is complete or turn to dangerous, but approved, drugs. For example, the arthritis drugs Vioxx and Celebrex caused many heart attacks and strokes before being pulled from market.

          “Regulation didn’t happen in a vacuum.”

          You’re right – big business and big government have been colluding to thwart competition under the guise of protecting the consumer for about 100 years now.

          • Eric Blair

            And if there is no regulation, then what do you think will happen?

          • redbean

            I should have clarified that I was describing government regulation, not advocating for no oversight.

            We can do better than the current inefficient scandal-ridden corporatist model, in which the regulators provide legal cover for the manufacturers.

            Instead, private, independent product testing could be applied to drugs, just as it has been for over 100 years to household products.
            https://mises.org/library/what-keeps-us-safe-0

            Of course, harming your customers is always bad for business, if word gets out, which is guaranteed in the digital age. The fact that nothing is ever 100% safe also assures there will always be a need for a legal process to determine causes and consequences for adverse events.

          • Eric Blair

            Assuming of course that actual fault won’t be buried in a mountain of misinformation. The digital age works both ways, and corporations are more than able and willing to use social media to spin their story.

            So compliance with testing would be voluntary or required by law?

            LOL.. as for independent product testing, I’ll simply refer you to the difference between Consumer Reports and Consumer’s Digest. And quite a few people still rely on Consumer’s Digest despite the fact that they evaluate products that advertise in their magazine

      • redbean

        Because government pays for most healthcare, everyone’s health is now everyone else’s business. Chronic diseases like diabetes and high blood pressure are costly to treat with drugs, which means that patients are being held accountable for their lifestyle choices.

        However, government has divided loyalties, so take their dietary and supplement recommendations with a grain of salt 😉

        • Eric Blair

          By the way, depending upon what type of Diabetes you have and where you level is, Diabetes is not expensive at all to treat. Metformin costs less than $5.00 a month.

  • DavidAppell

    Dan wrote:
    “With a current U.S. population of 320 million, that’s 42 million Americans on antidepressants, 38 million on opioid pain killers, 22 million on beta blockers and 19 million taking sedatives.”

    Dan, do you have evidence these numbers are unreasonable — in your medical opinion?

    If so, let’s see it.

    These medications address common and often devastating problems — depression, pain, high blood pressure, and sleep issues.

    You apparently prefer that people NOT get treatment for these medical problems. Why not just come out and say it?

    • redbean

      These medications also can have horrible and even deadly side effects. Pharmaceuticals are not the only medical treatments available, although they are the most expensive.

      My beef with Dan’s numbers is that when listed singly they appear to account for a large percentage of the population and don’t reflect users of multiple medications. Unfortunately, medication use multiplies when people use other ones to treat side effects. Elderly people can often be on 10, 15 or even 20 medications and no one truly knows how they interact.

      • DavidAppell

        “These medications also can have horrible and even deadly side effects. ”

        How many deaths? Numbers please. Also, your source for these numbers.

        I get the feeling you have never suffered from chronic pain.

        • redbean

          “I get the feeling you have never suffered from chronic pain.”

          DA, nothing in my post stated, or implied, that chronic pain sufferers should not take pain medications. If you’re looking for judgment, you won’t get it from me.

          Your demand that I do your research for you has triggered my charitable impulse, so I will waive my normal $40/hr fee.

          About medication risks in general, here are some freebies from the CDC: 82% of American adults take 1 med, 29% are on 5 or more. Adverse drug events annually result in 700,000 ER visits, 120,000 hospitalizations, and an extra $3.5b spent on medical costs.
          http://www.cdc.gov/medicationsafety/basics.html

          Prescription painkiller deaths are at epidemic levels. http://www.cdc.gov/drugoverdose/epidemic/index.html

          The Institute of Medicine also has a lot on patient safety, including medication-related deaths.

      • DavidAppell

        “These medications also can have horrible and even deadly side effects.”

        Do you know that lots of people used to die from high blood pressure? Would you prefer that continue?

        Depression is especially incidious. You want people to die from suicide instead of taking antidepressants?

        • redbean

          My statement was not controversial. Always read the package insert for your own safety.

  • DavidAppell

    Dan wrote:
    “It’s a little bit frightening to contemplate how many of our neighbors and fellow citizens are driving the same roads and voting in the same elections who may be doing so while heavily medicated.”

    Dan, do you have evidence that these medications negatively impact driving ability — in your medical opinion?

    If so, let’s see it.

    Be thankful you do not live in pain, Dan. Else you might come to appreciate these medications….

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