Monday with Mitch: A pill for every problemLast week, my father suffered a medical emergency. At the hospital, we were asked what medication he took. He is 83. His answer was aspirin and Zocor.
By: Mitch Albom, Tribune Media Services
Last week, my father suffered a medical emergency. At the hospital, we were asked what medication he took. He is 83. His answer was aspirin and Zocor.
“That’s it?” came the reply.
Days later, when he had been prescribed a daily blood thinner pill, a blood pressure pill and a stronger cholesterol pill, a therapist asked him the same question. What medication do you take?
He answered, detailing the three pills.
“Wow,” came the response, “You’re doing great for your age.”
The statement was telling — especially the “age” part — for this is truly the Age of Over-Prescription, when anything and everything has a pill assigned to it.
Did you know the average American fills 12 prescriptions a year? Our medicine cabinets are stocked with small brown bottles. There are countless ads trumpeting the benefits of this drug or that drug. From heartburn to heartache, there is a pill you can pop.
And that’s how the drug companies want it.
“It’s a huge business,” says Alesandra Rain. She should know. At one point in her life, she took over 100 pills a day — the result of an injury and personal issues that led to one pill, then another, then another, all prescribed by doctors. “I took pills for insomnia, for anxiety, for sleep, for depression, muscle relaxers.”
She would blame the doctors, but, as she says, “We’re culpable, too. I wanted my pain handled instantly.”
And plenty of drugs promised to do it.
America wasn’t always this pill-popping nation. It used to be that if you had a problem, you saw a doctor, and if the doctor felt it was serious enough, he prescribed a drug.
Today, your TV trumpets drugs straight to your face. You’re asked if you have this or that problem. You’re told there is a way to deal with it. Next thing you know, you’re asking your doctor — maybe even demanding — for some of that stuff.
“The HMO system has crushed us,” said Rain, who eventually quit all her pills and started a group call Point Of Return. “Doctors don’t have time to figure out what’s wrong. They just write a prescription.”
Of course, they have motivation, as we learned in the recent humongous $3 billion judgment against GlaxoKlineSmith. It revealed that doctors were often enticed to prescribe drugs through perks, kickbacks, even vacations.
This on top of the fact that Glaxo marketed antidepression drugs to under-18-year-olds, despite the fact they had not been declared safe for young patients.
It’s clear why the drug companies would push those limits. The younger you hook them, the longer you have them. And it plays into the mentality of our country, which seems to be: If you have a problem, open a vial. Cholesterol pushing upwards? A pill for that. Can’t sleep? A pill for that. Not feeling so great? A pill for that.
Never mind that these issues were once dealt with by diet, exercise or facing our problems. Today it’s easier — and much more lucrative to the drug companies — if you just take a handful and swallow.
Did you know only America and New Zealand even allow direct to consumer drug ads? Think about it. Why should average citizens be seeing ads for drugs? Shouldn’t that be limited to the physicians who then determine if they are appropriate?
But the drug companies are clever enough to leapfrog the process, go straight to the customer, and count on those in pain, in sadness, overweight or overindulgent to go to their doctors and insist on a pill.
And then there’s the whole other issue of what standards are being for “problematic.” What level is truly too high for cholesterol? How long is too long for depression? The lower the bar, the faster the medication gets prescribed. If you don’t think drug industry exerts pressure on those levels, you might want to take another pill, for naiveté.
My hope is that my father is not on these pills for long. His goal is to do what he can so that he doesn’t need them. This may dismay certain forces, but so be it.
How many pills do you take? The answer ought to be: “Only as many as I need.”
Sadly, that is not always — or even often — the case.
Mitch Albom is a columnist for the Detroit Free Press.