America is #1 -- that is, in terms of the number of people on prescription medications. We outrank the rest of the word in terms of how many people take medications regularly as well as the number of medications each person is on.
Don't have time to read about the big studies and surveys in the news right now? Here's a run down for you, according to the most recent study out by the National institute on Aging and the Mayo Clinic Center for the Science of Health Care Delivery:
• 70 percent of adults Americans use a prescription drug regularly. That's up from just 50 percent when the survey was last conducted a decade earlier.
• The percent of people who took more than five prescription drugs in a given month nearly doubled to 20 percent!
• The most commonly prescribed medications are antibiotics, antidepressants, painkilling opioids, and cholesterol medication.
• Many of the widely used drugs treat conditions related to obesity, such as diabetes, high blood pressure and cholesterol.
What questions naturally come up?
• Why do we as Americans, part of the richest society in the world, need increasing medications to keep ourselves healthy?
• If the US in the middle of a prescription painkiller overdose epidemic, why are opioids the #3 prescribed medication?
• With all the research on food and health available online, why do more and more people still stop for fast food EVERY DAY and feed it to their kids nightly?
• According to the CDC, U.S. adult obesity rate have risen to 38 percent. Why is America growing fatter each year?
Doc Annie's Take:
Obesity is the main culprit!
Half of all U.S. adults either have diabetes or are pre-diabetic because of their high sugars, according to a study released in part by National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases this past September. The majority of these cases are related to obesity, a poor diet and lack of exercise.
Sure, obesity has such a complex web of causes -- namely socioeconomics, poor health and nutrition education, the demise of the two parent family, and a society where BIGGER IS BETTER. By bigger I mean portions, everywhere you go! We also live a lifestyle where few people are PRESENT in their lives -- which means eating standing up, in the car, on the go.
All of these factors create the perfect storm of obesity. It isn't just one factor or we could fix it! Complicated problems cause even more complicated results. The solution to the obesity epidemic isn't a low carb, low fat or a vegan fad. It's an overhaul in how we think about treating ourselves.
FOOD needs to be our first medicine!
For those who suffer from arthritis, we now know that certain foods can do wonders for symptoms related to pain and inflammation. (Learn how to eat to fight inflammation.)
A borderline diabetic isn't placed on metformin right away; they are given nutritional counseling. Our thinking needs to switch to considering diet a major role in treatment plans.
East + West = Health
Adjunct treatment options shouldn't be treated as second line or less important therapies. A complaint of pain to your doctor shouldn't yield an Rx for pain medications first. Physical therapy, activity modifications, as well as holistic options like acupuncture should play a part in treatment.
According to The National Institute on Drug Abuse, the number of opioid overdose deaths in 2014 reached 20,000 and continues to grow. Yet the same study shows the number of people reporting pain has remained stable.
So why do we as doctors prescribe them so much?
Are we as doctors afraid we will lose patients if we discuss physical therapy, yoga, meditation or lifestyle modification to reduce pain? Or perhaps, sadly, the changing face of medicine has left us with little time and patience -- it's simply easier to write the prescription.
High stress lifestyle is another culprit!
Fewer hours are available to us to plan meals and shop right, so we value convenience over quality ingredients -- that means we shop in the center of the supermarket -- prepared, processed foods that could last a nuclear war.
How can we reap the benefits of real foods when we avoid them in the supermarket? Eating right requires a bit of time -- definitely more time than stopping at that drive thru!
The digital age works against us!
Screen time -- from laptops to iPhones to video games -- is robbing us -- especially children -- of fresh air and exercise. We're always hearing about studies linking shorter lives to how much time we spent SITTING!
We avoid the PRESENT!
Most of us on autopilot, we neglect self-care. Why else are more and more people taking antidepressants and anxiety medications?
The fact that antidepressants ranked #2 in prescribed medications says to me that we are ignoring the mental health side of medicine. Just giving a pill almost never solves a problem as deep rooted as depression. What happened to addressing the root of issues?
Of course many people NEED these medications; however as a physician in a busy suburban area I can tell you that the moment a patient complains about stress or sadness most are handed a prescription -- and it isn't for yoga, meditation or support therapy. Why wouldn't you try that first?
Finally, the prescription medicines themselves are causing a rise in MORE prescription medicines to be needed.
Newton said FOR EVERY ACTION THERE IS A REACTION.
Every single thing we put into our bodies has a side effect. After a while your medication helps what you took it for -- but then an unwanted side effect (sleep issues, heartburn, urinary problems, I could go on forever) sends you back to your doctor who prescribes something else for the side effect!
This goes on every day. We are on a slippery slope of turning to medications to mask the symptoms of disease, instead of looking at the root of causes of disease.
We need a shift to considering the food going into our mouths as being our primary medicine.
We need to demand more from our healthcare system -- not simple prescriptions for complex problems.
Changes like this could alleviate the fiscal crisis in health care. Based on a recent survey by Consumer Reports in 2014, 33 percent of Americans were paying $40 more a month for prescriptions than the year before and 10 percent were paying over $100 more.
Not surprisingly, the rising cost of prescription drugs for many means cutting back on other areas of their lives. I see this as less money for healthy groceries, gym memberships or classes or workout equipment; a vicious cycle indeed.
I'm not saying it's easy, I'm saying we don't have much choice. The road we are on scares me: the road of skyrocketing healthcare costs and of a growing number of chronically ill people in America. It should scare you too.