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Fixin' Healthcare

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Medication Nation

Over the past 50 years there has been an explosion of scientific research into human biology and disease processes. Basic pharmacology has utilized this information to discover and develop compounds with remarkable therapeutic capabilities.

The eager public acceptance of drugs for their real and perceived benefits has interacted with the economic and political systems in the US to foster gigantic health enterprises. Health care professionals are educated to rely upon medications for therapy and the public is primed to expect, request and demand medications to relieve a multitude of concerns and conditions.

According to government reports, more than 40 percent of Americans take at least one prescribed medication and 17 percent take three or more. Eighty-five percent of the manufactured supply of Ritalin is consumed in America. Performance enhancing drugs are commonly used by Americans of all stripes. In 2003, expenditures for perscription medications in the US rose 9.1 percent and only one-third could be attributed to price increases, the rest was increased utilization.

A medication culture has evolved within American society. The consequences are so great as to mold public understanding of health. Increasingly, personal and societal situations are perceived as medical problems amenable to treatment with medications. Financial considerations are overwhelmed by demand and the political system cannot withstand the pressure to respond with additional support. The cost estimates for the Medicare drug benefit have been low and will continue to be low.

Scientific research also has generated reliable information supporting the benefit of lifestyle to achieve optimum health status. The public has been slow to adopt healthy lifestyle compared to the utilization of medical care and medications. Twenty years ago Americans spent approximately 15 percent of disposable income on food and 8 percent on health care. Today those numbers are essentially reversed. Further, the types of foods that Americans eat, and do not eat, have a significant impact upon their health status.

Most medications are taken on a long term basis to treat the manifestations but not the cause of chronic health disorders and diseases. The tragedy is that most of these conditions could be reversed and achieve substantial relief by means of lifestyle. Eating whole foods, regular physical activity, adequate sleep, managing stress and maintaining normal weight are more beneficial, cause less trouble and cost less than medications.

Medications are chemicals and double edge swords that can cut in more than one direction. They never can be risk free. As long as the public clamors for drugs to address every conceivable condition, the risk will grow and the consequences will add to the cost of health care.

American society condemns drug addicition and the use of performance enhancing drugs by athletes. How much influence does the medication orientation of society have upon the use of illegal drugs and what type of influence is it?

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