Economy to Patients: No Drugs for You!

I couldn’t resist the Soup Nazi reference in the title. Here’s the article, from the New York Times:

As people around the country respond to financial and economic hard times by juggling the cost of necessities like groceries and housing, drugs are sometimes having to wait.

“People are having to choose between gas, meals and medication,” said Dr. James King, the chairman of the American Academy of Family Physicians, a national professional group. He also runs his own family practice in rural Selmer, Tenn.

Through August of this year, the number of all prescriptions dispensed in the United States was lower than in the first eight months of last year, according to a recent analysis of data from IMS Health, a research firm that tracks prescriptions.

Although other forces are also in play, like safety concerns over some previously popular drugs and the transition of some prescription medications to over-the-counter sales, many doctors and other experts say consumer belt-tightening is a big factor in the prescription downturn.

Does this mean Americans will finally start living a healthier, less drug-dependent lifestyle?
Not to trivialize the issue, which will undoubtedly be serious for some. But this problem is occurring in a specific setting. Namely:

-A culture of overprescription and half-assed doctor visits.

-A marketing-born medicalization tendency. For example, let’s say a woman experiences intense anxiety for a couple of days, with no discernable source. She sees an ad on TV for a medication targeting this issue. She visits her doctor and asks for the medication. I’m not saying this happens often, but it must happen enough for pharma advertisers to justify their marketing expenses.

-A culture that encourages sedentary behavior. TV can be really good. Or at least really captivating. Why go outside?

-A culture that doesn’t take care of its weakest and sickest citizens.
Many of the people cutting back on meds seem to be old and/or have chronic diseases, like diabetes.

This adjustment is tragic in some ways
, especially for those mentioned in the last point above. But it surfaces a positive aspect, too, that a number of diseases can be prevented and managed through a healthy lifestyle. I’m pretty sure that people with moderate cholesterol problems can get off Lipitor with enough lifestyle alterations.

I also hope that a solid workaround emerges for people who face real health risks from cutting back on prescription drugs.

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  • Hi Drea,

    Polypharmacy is one of the many problems confronting patient care. It’s a bizarre situation: patients get too many of the meds they need and not enough of the ones that they can’t afford.

    I agree with you that we need much better preventative medicine, including encouraging a culture of healthy lifestyles. It’s a big effort, especially since there’s a viscous cycle of lifestyle management: unhealthy bodies lead to depressed brains which lead to laziness and junk food cravings and so on.

    As for pharmaceuticals, pharmaceutical companies work hard to develop useful and important substances that can improve the lives of millions. On average, for every drug that makes it to market 5,000 study drugs fail. 1 out of 5,0000! It’s an expensive project, one that’s easily bashed in the press (some of it justifiably).

    So it’s important that we have a healthcare system that’s not only equitable, but effective. The problem is WAY larger than most of us realize.

    I used to be opposed to socialized medicine. I still am at a core level. But in light of the $850 Billion bailout (and the more to come), I don’t feel anybody has the right to bash ‘socialized medicine’…not anymore. The word Socialist has lost its meaning.

    Think of the kind of healthcare system we could help build with $1,000,000,000,000. Think of the capital and infrastructural changes we could make: and it still could be a largely private industry.

    My advice: eat your veggies, meditate, walk daily and make friends with doctors and nurses.