Our opinion: There's a pill for that


While the news may not be too terribly surprising to anyone bombarded by pharmaceutical commercials while watching evening television, a new report shows that nearly half of all Americans take one or more medications.

A recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report -- titled "Health, United States, 2013" -- issued earlier this month, included a special section on Americans' ever-growing use of prescription drugs.

The most common prescription drugs? Well, among adults, that would be for cardiovascular disease and high cholesterol.

However, as a report from medical news outlet HealthDay points out, "The relationship between Americans and their prescriptions is complex, according to the report produced by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention."

While "more people than ever are receiving effective treatment for chronic conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol levels and depression ... doctors and pharmacists also find themselves struggling with unintended consequences of drug use, such as prescription narcotics abuse and the advent of antibiotic-resistant germs."

A double-edged sword, to be sure.

"Isn't that the case with all forms of medical technology?" Julia Holmes, chief of the analytic studies branch at the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics, told HealthDay. "It results in great benefit to people who are ill and disabled, but there's always the potential for inappropriate use."

A Time Magazine report on the CDC's findings highlights some interesting numbers to consider:

-- As we already mentioned, heart medications and cholesterol-lowering drugs are the most prescribed (at 17.7 and 10.7 percent of Americans, respectively, taking them.

-- The top five are rounded out by antidepressants (10.6 percent), painkillers (10.5 percent) and acid-reflux medications (9 percent).

There are, however, two extremely troubling revelations. First, 5 percent of insured Americans -- and 22 percent of the uninsured -- went without a prescribed medication because they were unable to afford it.

And worse: There has been a 300 percent increase in the use of prescription painkillers over the past decade

"Too many American are getting hooked on these drugs when they are legitimately prescribed, and too many are turning to heroin as a cheaper substitute for prescribed painkillers when they can no longer access or afford them," the Sentinel and Enterprise wrote in a recent editorial.

"Is the medical community doing enough to make sure that these drugs are being prescribed responsibly? Should people who might be vulnerable to opioid addiction -- young people, recovering alcoholics and drug abusers -- be prescribed these drugs at all? Are doctors armed with enough information about the patient every time they write a script for an opioid painkiller?"

Consider ProPublica's recent report -- "Dollars for Doctors: How Industry Money Reaches Physicians" -- which found 15 pharmaceutical companies disclosed making $2.5 billion in payments to doctors, other medical providers and health-care institutions since 2009 for promotional talks, consulting and research. Keep in mind, those are just the companies that disclose their payments.

But, as the Sentinel and Enterprise points out, this dark cloud does have a silver lining. Many prescribed drugs are helping to battle chronic diseases, extending peoples' lives. And life expectancy is on the rise for both men (76.2 years) and women (81 years).

Still, as Uncle Ben once astutely pointed out to a young Peter Parker: "With great power comes great responsibility."

Sure, there may be a pill, these days, for whatever ails you. But we expect doctors, pharmaceutical companies and other within the medical care industry to better monitor and regulate who gets these pills, how they are provided, and the continuing care needed for anyone with a medical condition. Many of these pills can and do help many people. But they can also ruin lives, a fact we are reminded of all too often.


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