Why Are We Taking More Medication and Getting Sicker?
People are taking more pills than ever before. Even with all that medication “help,” everyone is still getting sicker.
It’s not unusual for the morning routine to start with a cup of coffee, a hot shower, and a handful of meds. According to a Consumer Reports survey, over 50% of Americans regularly take at least one prescription medication, but the average number per person is four.
Not only are Americans taking more pills now than at any other time in recent history, but they also consume more medication than anyone in any other country.
Some of the medication is classified as life-improving or lifesaving, but much of it is not.
Does Taking Prescription Medication Cause Harm?
When prescriptions are taken correctly and according to instructions, there is still a significant risk of side effects. Doctors are making decisions based on whether the benefits of the medication outweigh the unwanted symptoms that occur when taking the pills.
The most common side effects of many prescription medications include nausea, diarrhea, and constipation. That happens because most drugs go through the digestive system to have the body absorb them. [ 1]
When severe side effects occur, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) calls the incident a “serious adverse event.” The items included in that list are death, disability, hospitalization, and life-threatening conditions.
Interventions to prevent permanent damage or impairment and congenital anomalies are also on that list.
From 2011 to 2017, the FDA tracked over 5.4 million reports of adverse events related to prescription medication, including over one million deaths. This information is available through the Public Dashboard. [2 ]
Four out of the 14 most commonly prescribed drugs in the United States have caused death. Over half of them trigger heart issues and liver damage as a side effect. Elmiron even has eye damage as a listed side effect. [ 3]
Inappropriate Use Causes Additional Health Concerns
The amount of harm from prescription medication side effects is staggering, but so is the damage that happens when drugs are misused.
About 1.3 million people go to emergency rooms in the United States each year because of adverse drug effects. Approximately half of those visits were preventable because the meds weren’t taken correctly.
Those are costly experiences to families, insurance companies, and the national economy. About $200 billion is spent in the United States each year on improper or unnecessary medication.
How Are Drugs Being Taken Inappropriately in the United States?
When Americans take medication, they often think they’re improving their quality of life. In some instances, there is truth to that statement. There are times when it is entirely appropriate to take pharmaceuticals to treat a health problem.
There are also times when the habit of taking pills is expensive and harmful. That outcome comes in several forms today.
1. People Take Too Many Drugs Each drug someone takes increases the likelihood that adverse side effects occur. These unwanted symptoms become so potent that life becomes difficult to manage for some people. Even if what happens is “minor,” such as persistent diarrhea, skin rashes, or anxiety, the quality of life can go down.
It’s not unusual to have doctors prescribe more medication to prevent the side effects of the original prescription. People get put on a costly and extensive regimen that doesn’t guarantee a result.
2. People Take Unnecessary Drugs Documented instances of men experiencing debilitating strokes after starting a testosterone regimen continue to grow. Some doctors have prescribed this hormone treatment to manage fatigue, even though the FDA hasn’t approved it for use. [4 ]
Doctors have given children allergy prescriptions because the side effect makes them feel tired so that they’ll sleep – not because they're having an allergic reaction to something in their environment. [ 5]
3. People Take Drugs Proactively
A popular treatment option for prediabetic conditions is to prescribe metformin. This medication helps to control blood sugar, but it’s not unusual for patients without type 2 diabetes (but have significant risk factors for it) to lower their A1C numbers by losing weight and becoming more active.
Doesn’t it make more sense to find natural healing methods whenever possible instead of relying on drugs that cause so many different side effects?
Some Doctors Think Every Symptom Requires a Drug
When you’re in the business of making money instead of treating people, every hint of disease requires a prescription. Where did people get that notion?
It’s not something that people invented. No one wakes up one day, thinks that a sneeze requires medicine, and that thought is shared simultaneously with everyone else.
Our culture spoon-feeds the notion that every possible health problem or potential risk factor requires medication to solve it.
We also have a short-staffed healthcare culture in many communities that force providers to process people faster and less efficiently. That means the easiest way to offer a treatment plan is to write a prescription that deals with a person’s concerns.
It doesn’t take long for people to see their medication management start spiraling out of control. The process might begin with something that treats anxiety, then moves to a stimulant to lift a person’s mood, and then another to stop the side effects of the first two drugs.
Some people don’t sleep well while taking multiple meds, but there’s another pill for that. Are you losing weight because the side effect of a prescription is appetite reduction? There’s another drug for that.
In some cases, multiple drugs are entirely appropriate. When a person’s prescription list starts climbing, that’s also when extreme caution should be considered. After all, more than half of the people who take doctor-authorized medication get them from more than one provider.
Although blame can be placed in multiple buckets, it helps to follow the money trail. The pharmaceutical industry spends billions of dollars each year on advertising to consumers. Drug companies spend $25 billion or more annually to market directly to doctors.
What can you do? Be proactive about your health. Question every prescription and why it’s necessary. When you take charge of your treatment plan, it’s often much easier to manage whatever symptoms are bothering you.