The American Prescription Drug Industry (Part 2)

To follow-up on the topic I discussed in my post last week on American drug use, I would like to discuss Maine’s problem with prescription drug use more this week. As I stated in my last post, Maine has a serious problem with prescription pain killers as we have the highest abuse rate of opiate use in the country. This coupled with the fact that the highest growing number of drug users are grouped between the ages of 12 and 17, it is safe to say that this is a significant developing crisis for our state.

Typically, when people consider the prevention of drug abuse/misuse, they believe that policing of the problem is the best option. The “War on Drugs,” is a good example of this which called for a tougher crack-down on drug trafficking and a tighter grip on our boarders particularly with Mexico. However, while this method may have restricted the in-flow of illegal drugs into our country, it did not deter people from seeking the effects drugs can provide.

As I stated before, with the passing of Medicare: Part D, there is now a much larger supply of legal, prescription drugs on the market because pharmaceutical companies want their “cut” of the profit which is now supplied by the federal government. This almost creates a “perfect storm” for an increase in prescription drug abuse as illegal drugs become harder to attain and legal drugs are just a doctor’s signature away.

How then, do we no address this problem created by government policy? I suggest with government policy. In my opinion, government is primarily in place to protect people, and if, for some reason, it turns out that it is actually harming its citizens, it must take steps to correct itself and revert the problems it is causing.

At the national level, the White House calls for a plan it believes will help to lower prescription drug abuse. The report of the “epidemic” of prescription drug abuse can be halted, or at least deterred, through education, tracking and monitoring, proper medication disposal, enforcement and prescription drug abuse plan goals.

This plan also calls for an increase in legislation that would allow for these programs to receive funding to reach their goals. These plans would spread across the US to all states which would increase the amount of treatment options available in all states and increase law enforcement knowledge and funding for prescription drug traffickers and abusers. The goal would be a decrease of 15% within the next year of prescription drug abuse throughout the country.

As Pain Management clinics throughout the country continue to be on the rise since the passing of Medicare: Part D, the abuse of prescription drug abuse from these clinics has also increase. The White House report refers to these types of clinics as “pill mills” or “doctor shoppers” who sell prescriptions of pain-killing drugs to people who abuse them. With the White House plan, this will hopefully be able to deter prescription drug abuse with enforce via tracking patients and doctors who prescribe opiates or other powerful prescription drugs frequently.

The most important thing that individuals can do, however, is simply to be more aware of what prescription drug abuse looks like. If you know of an individual who is dependent on prescription drugs, contact a doctor, local FDA representative or anonymous hotline to receive more advice on the situation and how to handle it. Each situation is obviously different and unique.

With proper public education of the epidemic of prescription drug abuse and actual enforcement of legislation that would prevent or deter prescription drug abuse, lives can be changed and saved. Do your part to help prevent an accidental overdose from prescription drug abuse. Educate yourself on the topic, especially if you know you will be relying on prescription drugs at some point in your future for proper medical reasons.

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The American Prescription Drug Industry

This week I would like to focus on a different source of major problems concerning healthcare in America- the prescription drug industry.

The US represents about 5% of the entire world’s population, yet we represent roughly 50% of the entire world’s consumers of drugs. This is especially concerning when we consider that for all of the medicine we continuously put into our bodies, we are the 37th ranked country in terms of how healthy we are according to the World Health Organization.

Why then, is our drug consumption so incredibly high with no real correlation between the amount of drugs we consume compared to how healthy they make us? The answer is quite simple when you take healthcare out of the mix entirely- money.

Under Medicare Part D, pharmaceutical companies can now charge whatever they want for their medications and not worry about the price being too high for the average person. This is because it is not paid for by the consumer, but the government instead, whose hands are more or less tied under the legislation.

This is particularly harmful to Medicaid programs across the country, especially in states where the elderly population (the group more frequently using medications) is higher than average. Maine is a great example of one such state where our population is continuously growing older as more young people are fleeing the state and older people are migrating here for retirement.

In studies of the effects that the passing of Medicare Part D has had on the healthcare system, it has proven to be more dangerous than beneficial in some cases. This is due to a lack of oversight from the government and the allowance of doctors to now simply “solve” their patients medical problems as easily as signing their name on a prescription pad. This is what modern medicine has been largely turned into in the US.

According to recent information, mortality rates from Adverse Drug Reactions (ADR) are one of the leading causes of death in the US with more than 100,000 fatalities per year. Why then, is our drug use so high? Again, the answer is money.

It is much easier and profitable for a doctor to simply write a prescription, send you on your way and bill you for their time later than it is to thoroughly examine every patient that walks through their doors. This leads to an increase in misdiagnoses and problems that can occur when doctors are not carefully treating their patients, but rather prescribing them a pill for every problem they have.

There is also another serious problem we must consider when discussing the drug industry in the US and that is abuse of medications. According the the documentary American Addict, there has been a huge increase in “Pain Management” Clinics throughout the US in the past decade. This coincides with the recent increase in efforts to fight the “War on Drugs” in America, but the “War” is mainly focused on illegal drugs, and not the ones you can simply get from your local doctor.

From an economics standpoint suggested by the film, “seizing the supply doesn’t seize the demand for the effects provided by drugs.” Now though, people can feel those effects legally from the simple miss- or over-use of pharmaceutical drugs provided to you from your physician. The only difference? Now it’s legal.

This also becomes particularly alarming for parents when the fastest growing group of drug abusers in America is 12 to 17 year olds. In Maine in particular this is a very important number to keep an eye on considering that we had the highest amount of opiate drug abuse in the country in 2011 according to an article in the Bangor Daily News.

It is unfortunate that the very people that we put our health and wellness in the hands of may very well be doing the most damage to our bodies with the medicines they prescribe us. That being said, I do not condone anyone to disregard the orders of their doctors, but rather, be more conscious of their decisions and what we put into our own bodies. Do research on drugs and if the side-effects outweigh the benefits, ask more questions and be more cautious. And as Gregory M. Smith, M.D., States in the closing of American Addict, “if the first thing your doctor wants to do is prescribe you a new pill for every medical problem you have, maybe it’s time to find a new doctor.”

“Let Food Be Thy Medicine”

Let food be thy medicine.”

-Hippocrates

As crazy as this idea may seem, recent studies have proven that this is exactly what the underlying problem of almost all health problems with Americans today. In fact, recent studies have shown that by simply changing our diets now, we are more apt to avoid a plethora of medical problems in the future and in some cases, even reverse the effects that a disease may have already had on one’s body.

Most experts in food and nutritional science believe that the best way to treat health problems in America is to simply switch people off of the “Western Diet,” (typically comprised of meat and dairy products, high fat and sodium foods and fast food) and to start them on a whole foods, non-refined fruit and vegetable based diet. 

According to an article published by the American Journal for Clinical Nutrition done by Dr. T. Colin Campbell, the types of food that we eat can directly have an adverse affect on the development of cancer within the body. His study found that when rats were given high amounts of animal protein (about 20%) in their diets the cell replication of cancer cells greatly increased. But when the rats were given a diet of little to no animal protein (less than 5%) and fed more plant-based proteins, the cancer cell activity could be virtually shut off at any stage of its development.

To put this notion into simple terms, nutrients from products containing high animal proteins grows cancer cells, while nutrients from plant-based diets stops cancer growth.

Another important factor to consider when discussing the benefits of switching from the “Western Diet” to a plant-based one is the significant decrease in heart problems. We need look no further than Norway during WWII to find a particularly useful example of this exact scenario.

Once the Nazi’s had taken over Norway, they confiscated most, if not all, of their livestock, forcing the Norwegian people to switch from meat-based diets to ones that were more plant-based. The results were undeniable.

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As we can clearly see form this graph, which detailed the rate of heart-related deaths in Norway from 1927 to 1945, there is an clear decline in heart-related deaths from1940 through 1944 when the Norwegians were forced to survive off more plant-based foods.

You may be questioning why this is related to government subsidized or provided healthcare programs. However, the answer should be becoming more and more clear as we start to consider the bills for all of these very preventable health problems.

Where the US spent about 17.6% of its total GDP on healthcare in 2010, and spent nearly 2.5 times the average amount per person on healthcare ($8,233) in that same year, it is safe to say that this is not a inexpensive oversight.

In Maine in particular, where MaineCare enrollment has doubled in the last decade, this is becoming a particularly expensive program to fund. According to the US Government’s spending website, Maine is predicted to spend roughly 2.9 billion dollars on healthcare in 2014 (roughly ¼ the entire budget).

The cost of the average coronary bypass surgery (the typical procedure to fix most heart problems caused from blockages within major arteries) is well over $20,000. Multiply that rough number by about 500,000 (the number of CB surgeries in the US per year) and you are at a staggering 10 billion dollars per year. The kicker? This money is spent on a treatment which is totally avoidable with a proper diet.

With government nationalization of healthcare, this issue of unhealthy dieting is now one that will affect everyone. Why should taxpayers have to pay for the operations of unhealthy people who have neglected to maintain a healthy lifestyle with a good, low cholesterol diet? That answer too lies with the government.

The fact of the matter is, the government wants you to eat meat and other unhealthy food products like High-Fructose Corn Syrup because they are the ones that are subsidizing the farmers to produce them. With meat and corn lobbyists in Washington spending more than 5 million dollars in 2013 just to ensure that Congress continues to endorse their companies through legislation, there is no incentive for government to condone the “Western Diet.” Yet.

My hope is that the recent passing of the Affordable Care Act will encourage people to look more closely behind the curtain that government puts up over this correlation. They prevent people from realizing that they are actually endorsing companies and programs that are harming (in some cases killing), American citizens, only to leave more American citizens to pick up the bill from the hospital afterwards.

This is also incredibly important in Maine when considering both health and welfare reform discussions which will likely be centerpieces of discussion during the upcoming election cycles. Should Maine be allowing people to purchase unhealthy or harmful foods from welfare programs when we also foot the bill for the long-lasting health effects after? Food for thought…  

[Citing: Graph for the “Norwegian Example” and some ideas came from the 2011 documentary film Forks Over Knives.]

The Current Fraud In the Maine Welfare System

The Current Fraud In the Welfare System In Maine

This article does a great job portraying the fraud problems we currently have with Maine’s welfare system and the use of the EBT (Electronic Benefits Card) Cards.  They function much like debit cards, only using the money provided by the state to the people who qualify for welfare.  The problem is that we cannot track where these people are spending the money they withdraw as cash, and have not prosecuted the ones who clearly violated the agreement and abused the system at locations such as alcohol, tobacco or tattoo venues.  Though this article is not directly related to healthcare, it is an example of the already large amount of money that Maine supplies to its citizens that goes wasted or abused each year, thus adding to our State’s debt.  In my opinion, everyone who is a taxpayer in the state of Maine should read this article, and pay attention to any forms of the news media discussing where our tax dollars are going in the welfare system.  After all, it is our money that is being abused and spent fraudulently.

Food vs. Healthcare, the Ongoing Battle in America.

As a preface to my first ever blog post, I am not really familiar with the format of a blog, however I would encourage those reading this to do so more for content than style. That being said, my topics will discuss a more broad overview of some of the current underlying problems that I find with the healthcare systems in America and Maine over the next few blog posts. Many people only view government funded healthcare at its face value, but in all reality, we must consider many other factors when determining how a government healthcare system can be affected positively and, in almost all cases, negatively.  My topic for today will be mostly covering the food industry in America and how its can have an influence in our healthcare system.

First and foremost, I would like to address the problem with America’s food industry. In a country which just passed a nationalized healthcare system, we are the fattest in the world. According to an article in the Huffington Post, our obesity rate is 33.8 percent, which is the highest among all other countries.  This problem is likely one that will continue to grow as fast food industries continue to expand as well as income inequality and job loss increases.  It is much easier and cheaper for a family living in poverty to pick something up from the dollar menu at a fast food restaurant after working a 12 hour shift than it is to go to the grocery store and prepare a healthy, home-cooked meal.

Another major problem with the food industry that has been growing more and more since Roosevelt’s New Deal is the industrialization of food in America.  Agriculture and livestock have become a cash cow (literally), for large corporations and farming is no longer a family affair where hard work, and pride are poured into a farm’s produce.  Now, we are producing and harvesting chickens full of artificial growth hormones in half the time it would have taken them to grow and develop to the proper harvesting size in the wild or at a natural farm.  The cows that we eat come from “farms” (they more resemble factories though), where they are bred in incredibly close and highly unsanitary quarters.  Their diet consists of feed that is cheaper than grass, clover, or any other natural element that should be included in a cow’s regular, wholesome, healthy diet.  It is no wonder that there have been several recalls on beef products in the past few years when all we have to do is watch how these animals are bred, raised and brought to slaughter.

To now discuss the monopolization of the agricultural industry, we need look no further than corn.  The monopolization by corporate take-overs of that industry have been astonishing to say the least in the past decade.  Simply look at the legislation passed and recent cases involving the seed engineering company Monsanto.  Because of the corporate lobbyist in Washington, this legislation “protects” the major companies genetically producing seed, specifically corn seed, from being used by non-Monsanto customers.  In all reality however, this simply gives Monsanto the power to sue, and essentially close down, any farm (their non-corporate competition) found to be using any of their products for trademark infringement.  This is particularly harmful to corn farmers in the Mid-West because they may be following all of the appropriate protocol to avoid such a lawsuit, but the pollen from corn, and thus Monsanto products, can still spread to other fields via the wind and air, where the farmers will still be found liable.

All of these factors are incredibly important to take into consideration when discussing government funded healthcare.  Not only are these major food companies producing food that is harmful, or at the very least unhealthy, for people, they are being protected by the federal government (and in some cases even receiving subsidies and tax-breaks), which is giving them the power to continue their work.  There is a double standard when looking at America’s food industry next to a nationalized healthcare system. While American’s are paying more in taxes to provide a service such as healthcare, the very same people that are passing healthcare legislation are also passing legislation helping these monopolized food industries.  They are costing more and more to the American taxpayer as Americans continue to become more and more unhealthy and thus, require more healthcare services that are funded from the pockets of American citizens.  This is a vicious political and industrial circle that the American taxpayers and, more importantly people, are trapped inside of with no solution in near sight under our current system of government.