Friday, February 5, 2010

Are You Addicted to Drugs?

If you live in a developed country, you probably are addicted to drugs - prescription drugs. The average number of prescription drugs prescribed annually has almost doubled over the past ten years in the UK, US and Canada, with the elderly being responsible for much of this rise. For example, in 2007 the average Briton over 60 received 42.4 prescription items annually compared to 22.3 in 1997. The rise in North America has been similar. The use of non-prescription over-the-counter drugs will add to these numbers.

So when I suggest that you are addicted to drugs, it's not a physical addiction I am referring to, but a psychological addiction to using a pill as a response to a problem. If you have a headache, can't stay awake and alert or can't sleep, take a pill. There is a pill for everything that ails us, and if there is not one yet, there will be soon as the pharmaceutical industry strives to meet our every need.

So what is the problem with using prescription and over-the-counter drugs? There are a number of problems, not the least of which is that the leading cause of death in the US is properly prescribed medications. Death can result from unwanted effects of medication (also known as side-effects), or from an interaction between two or more medications.

Why do these happen so frequently that they kill more people than cancer or heart disease? It's because new drugs are not generally tested on large numbers of people – a few thousand at most, and sometimes less than a thousand – and are not monitored after release. National Drug Agencies rely on patients or doctors voluntarily reporting an adverse reactions to the drug. Except in very obvious cases like Thalidomide, it takes many years to gather enough information to discover harmful effects. Sometimes these are discovered only when a further study is carried out.

For example, the Women's Health Initiative tested the effects of postmenopausal hormone therapy, diet modification, and calcium and vitamin D supplements on heart disease, fractures, and breast and colorectal cancer. Contrary to their expectations, post-menopausal estrogen and progestin therapy were shown to increase the risk of heart attack, stroke, blood clots, and breast cancer. As a result of these findings, the study was stopped in July 2002; the following year breast cancer in the US dropped by 7.2 percent!

If you must take prescription drugs, you can protect yourself somewhat by asking your physician to prescribe a drug that has been on the market for five years or longer. This will have allowed enough people to have taken it to identify the more serious side-effects. But first you should ask 'What other options besides drugs  are there to deal with this problem?' Often there are things you can do that do not involve medication. For example, if your cholesterol level is high you can make dietary changes.

Whenever possible you should do all you can to break your addiction to relying on drugs to solve your problems. There will be some conditions that require you to take a prescription drug, but there are many where changing your behaviour may actually get rid of a problem. Drugs generally just mask the symptoms, leaving the problem itself untouched. More on this in the next post. 

Photo credit: Rodrigo Senna

No comments: