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.

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