46% of Americans take at least one prescription drug daily. (1)
I can assure you that the number of people who actually need drugs is a small percentage of those taking them. For example, people are being prescribed drugs for heartburn when it is one of the easiest health problems to treat. Most people ignore the fact that heartburn is an important clue from their body and rely on a drug instead to suppress the symptoms.
Drug companies have been able to get away with their high prices because the vast majority of people do not pay for their medications anymore. It's insurance companies that are picking up the tab. Since most people do not pay for it directly, drug companies are able to get away with charging outrageous prices.
Drug companies are the most profitable industry
The drug companies claim that they need large earnings - 125,835,595,000 in 1999 (2) - to conduct their research and development. They have a point - only up to a degree. Aggressive research is indeed needed. The medications produced by the pharmaceutical industry have improved the quality and length of life of many people. But this justification loses credibility when:
1. Just 1 out of every 5 dollars the drug industry collects goes to drug research.
2. Some drug companies spend almost twice as much money for advertising and marketing as they spend for research.
3. Drug industry profits are so large they outstrip every other industry's profits by far (3).
Drug companies are the most profitable industry. In 2001, a year which saw a drop in employment rates, a plunge in the stock market and symbols of America's economy literally come crashing down, the drug companies continued their reign as the most profitable industry in the annual Fortune 500 list.
While the overall profits of Fortune 500 companies declined by 53%, which was the 2nd biggest dive in profits the Fortune 500 has taken in its 47 years, the top 10 U.S. drug companies increased their profits by 33% (3).
The system is badly broken and in need of a change. We cannot spend over one trillion dollars for health care just to improve profits for drug companies. We have the capital to more than adequately treat nearly all people. What we need to do is shift our perspectives and priorities.
This emphasis on drugs is one of the main reasons why spending for prescription drugs is the fastest-growing category of health care expenditures.
It is also one of the major factors contributing to the fact that doctors are a major leading cause of death in the United States, due to the fact that they have an over reliance on using drugs as 'patch-up' solutions, rather than seeking the cause of the problem.
How safe are prescription drugs?
In 1998 an extensive study published in the reputable Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) showed that 106,000 people die each year in American hospitals from medication side effects (4).
Let's look at this statistic a different way: 106,000 deaths a year averages out to nearly 300 deaths per day, every day. Deaths from all major airline crashes in the U.S. average less than 300 annually, but 1 airplane crash gets more media attention and governmental scrutiny than the 300 medication-related deaths which occurred not only on the same day as the airline crash, but also every day before and after for decades.
Why has this epidemic of side effects gone unrecognized? Deaths from medication reactions rarely look any different from natural deaths. There's no visible wreckage to videotape, no crash sites to fascinate and horrify TV viewers. As media people say, 'No film, no story'. Media and public relations firms, and how they shape the public's awereness, are discussed in more detail here.
Medication deaths often occur quietly in hospitals, emergency rooms and private homes. When medication-related deaths occur, it's often unclear at first whether the cause was the medication, the illness, or some other factor. In other words, to much of the media, there is nothing sexy about side effects.
The reported adverse effects of drugs are only the tip of the iceberg. Consider 'Digoxin', the best-selling heart drug. According to an article in JAMA, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) receives about 82 reports each year involving Digoxin, yet a systematic study of Medicare records reveals 202,211 hospitalizations for Digoxin adverse effects in a 7-year period (5). That's more than 28,000 reactions per year, 82 of which the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) hears about.
Read about 10 prescription drugs withdrawn from the market since 1997, after being used by millions of people, on page 2 of this article.
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(1). Bowman, L. 51% Of U.S. Adults Take 2 Pills or More a Day, Survey Reports (Scripps Howard News Service). San Diego Union-Tribune, Weds., Jan. 17, 2001:A8.
(2). Angell, "Is Academic Medicine for Sale?", p.128.
(3) Public Citizen April 18, 2002
(4). Lazarou J; Pomeranz BH; Corey PN. Incidence of adverse drug reactions in hospitalized patients: a meta-analysis of prospective studies. JAMA, 1998 Apr 15, 279(15):1200?5.
(5). Moore, "Time to act on drug safety," p. 57.
© 2002 Healing Daily