prescription drugs

The Real Price We Pay for Prescriptions

Hospitals these days are said to be understaffed and overpopulated, especially in ERs. When asked how to solve this problem, many in the hospital biz suggest more doctors, more nurses, a new hospital wing, a new campus.

prescription drugsBut here’s a solution that seems to have slipped their mind: How about fewer patients?

Though you may take a holistic approach to maintaining your health, we still have a national healthcare (or maybe, more appropriately, “sick care”) crisis. Too often, patients trust in prescription drugs for a quick fix for a pain or illness instead of investing in a preventive approach for long-term health and wellness – no-brainers like better nutrition, more exercise, practicing yoga or mindfulness, getting more and better sleep, or opting for lower risk therapies such as acupuncture, homeopathy, herbal medicine, ozone therapy, and the like.

According to a statistical brief from the Agency for Healthcare Quality and Research, opioid abuse alone has caused not only incredibly alarming increases in patient admissions, but also deaths.

Between 2000 and 2014, the rate of overdose deaths involving opioids in the United States increased 200 percent. Between 2013 and 2014 alone, the rate of opioid overdose deaths increased 14 percent, from 7.9 to 9.0 per 100,000 population. Hospitalizations related to opioid misuse and dependence also have increased dramatically, with the rate of adult hospital inpatient stays per 100,000 population nearly doubling between 2000 and 2012. The substantial increase over the past decade in the misuse of opioids, which include prescription opioids and illicit opioids such as heroin, has been declared an “opioid epidemic” by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

And it’s not just opioids. In 2014, nearly 1.3 million people wound up in American ERs for adverse drug effects of all kinds. Of those, roughly 124,000 died.

According to the Campaign for Sustainable Rx Pricing, prescription drug costs alone make up nearly 20% of our total healthcare costs. Spending on drugs is growing faster than any other health care cost.

American spending on prescription drugs increased 13.1 percent in 2014—the largest annual increase since 2003. This uptick was largely driven by an unprecedented 30.9 percent increase in spending on specialty medications. In 2015, spending rose another 12.2 percent.

It should come as no surprise that the alarming rise in our prescription use also parallel’s the US legalization of marketing. The US and New Zealand are the only countries in the world who allow direct-to-consumer marketing of pharmaceuticals. According to the World Health Organization, this has caused tremendous issues with drug dependency, especially with lax regulations.

Direct-to-consumer advertising of drugs has been legal in the USA since 1985, but only really took off in 1997 when the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) eased up on a rule obliging companies to offer a detailed list of side-effects in their infomercials (long format television commercials). Since then the industry has poured money into this form of promotion, spending just under US$5 billion [in 2008] alone.

Yet these ads deliver a false sense of a healthy life. These “remedies” largely serve to mask patient problems, like a blindfolded view of your health. If you can’t see or feel the problem, it must not be there, right? Wrong. Rather, illness is pushed deeper. Between that and the sometimes alarming “side effects,” it can become even more complicated to allow the body to heal and return to balance.

Even then, you’ve only ever addressed symptoms, not necessarily their cause.

This is not to say there’s no role for medication in healthcare, but it has taken an outsized role. And many medications, as Consumer Reports recently documented, aren’t exactly necessary.

Many Americans—and their physicians—have come to think that every symptom, every hint of disease requires a drug, says Vinay Prasad, M.D., an assistant professor of medicine at Oregon Health & Science University. “The question is, where did people get that idea? They didn’t invent it,” he says. “They were spoon-fed that notion by the culture that we’re steeped in.”

If you’re taking prescription meds, the solution isn’t to just chuck them. That could be dangerous. Instead, have a conversation with your doctor about which are necessary and which might be replaced with other therapies. Consult with a naturopathic physician or other holistic health professional about alternatives.

There are other options out there.