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Over Prescribed Medications

Most Americans know more people than not who take prescription medications for common health problems, such as high cholesterol and diabetes. Many of our parents, grandparents, and other elderly relatives depend on life-saving drugs every day. However, some of us have friends and family members taking medications they might not even need for health conditions they do not have, in which case the resulting physical and financial costs can be quite substantial.

Prescription Sales Healthy in 2009

The business of pharmaceuticals is nothing to sneeze at. According to an article in the May issue of Pharmacy Times, antipsychotics was the highest grossing class of medications in 2009, with sales reaching $14.6 billion. Lipid regulators, also the most commonly prescribed medications, ran a close second at $14.3 billion, followed by proton pump inhibitors. Antipsychotic drugs are used to treat psychotic illnesses such as schizophrenia. Antidepressants ranked a surprising fourth place in total sales, with a 4% growth to $9.9 billion. While the number of generic drug prescriptions grew, their lesser cost may have decreased the total sales amount.

Sad News for Antidepressants

What do those sales numbers mean? Are all of the dollars being spent on prescription drugs justified, or are we becoming a nation of pill-popping hypochondriacs? Well, let’s take a look at one group of medications for some possible answers.

In 2005, an estimated 27 million Americans were taking antidepressants, a figure which doubled from 13.3 million patients in 1996. A 1998 analysis reviewed 38 manufacturer-sponsored studies comprised of about 3,000 patients being treated for depression with antidepressants. The results of those studies showed the drugs were effective and that patients improved while taking them. However, when one of the authors of the analysis studied a comparison between patients who took the drugs and those who took placebos, or dummy pills, the result was surprising. The patients on placebo pills showed a 75 percent improvement as compared to patients on the actual antidepressants. That said, no one is suggesting you toss your prescriptions. Always consult your doctor before making any treatment changes.

So why are we taking so many pills in America? Are we all that miserable? Lazy? Are we searching for excuses? Perhaps we’re just looking for that magic fix. Placebo effect or not, we need faith in our doctors and to believe that our medications are helping us. The alternatives are simply unacceptable. When we leave that exam room, written script in hand, we often breathe a sigh of relief, and believe we will be “cured.”

While obviously many health conditions require medication, some relief can be found by making lifestyle changes. Just losing weight and eating healthier can reduce or eliminate the need for certain medications, like those for acid reflux and type II diabetes. Ask your doctor what you can do for yourself before sinking a bucket of cash into prescriptions.


http://www.pharmacytimes.com/issue/pharmacy/2010/May2010/RxFocusTopDrugs-0510 Dr. Michael Bartholow, PharmD Pharmacy Times May 11, 2010

The Journal of the American Medical Association Journal of the American Medical Association

http://www.srmhp.org/0201/adhd.html The Scientific Review of Mental Health Practice

http://www.newsweek.com/2010/01/28/the-depressing-news-about-antidepressants.html Newsweek Jan 29, 2010 by Sharon Begley