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.”