Is the West too reliant on drugs companies?

depressed boy

Drugs company giant, Pfizer, has agreed to pay a record 2.3 billion dollars in a settlement about improperly marketing its drugs in the US and giving doctors perks to encourage them to write prescriptions.

We remembered Mark posted this blog (below) after Michael Jackson died, originally entitled ‘Are we too quick to prescribe medication?’. This got us thinking again about how we use drugs. Are we an over medicated society? This seems to be a question on your minds after reading so many comments relating to yesterday’s blog on depression. Anthony seems to think we’re too quick to take a tablet, “Oh, you’re tired, you feel sad, you feel awkward in social settings? You MUST have something wrong with you, and here’s the cure, PILLS!!!” One blogger compares the pharmaceutical industry to illegal pushers but as someone posted in ironic reply… ‘since when did medicine ever save anybodies life?’

Here’s Mark blog post…

Here’s a story from 2001 talking about how the world – particularly the developed world – was using too many prescription drugs.

Here’s a report from 2007 which warns that  “the abuse of prescription drugs will surpass illicit drug abuse “.

 And here’s a report – one of thousands – which talks about Michael Jackson’s  reliance on them.

mournerand here’s a video of Jackson’s attorney talking about how people around the late singer “enabled” his habit.

Clearly, it’s not just a problem for the famous. David Smallwood writes movingly in this article about his addiction :

“At the age of 16 I became even more anxious, went to a doctor, and said to him: “I can’t cope with life.” He kept his eyes on his pad and prescribed Ativan, an anti-anxiety drug. I took it every day for 16 years. Pain and anxiety went far away. I was able to deal with the world”

Nearly seven million Americans abuse prescription drugs- here it’s described as an “epidemic ”  and there are calls to make doctors pass tests before they hand them out.

And it’s not just a problem in the developed world. Here’s a WHO report from 2 years ago.

Is this a problem we can do anything about ? In a disposable society, are we too quick to reach for the pills ?


42 Responses to “Is the West too reliant on drugs companies?”

  1. 1 nora
    July 9, 2009 at 13:45

    Yes, in the west we are too quick on the drugs. I have had arthritis for half a century and been offered every manner of side effects. The folks who actually took these drugs often suffered much worse fates from the drug experiment than the disease. Their children dealt with over-medicated elders. We seem to prescribe for symptoms and ignore underlying wellness issues, like exercise and nutrition and stress reduction.

    Michael Jackson is the latest example of the entertainment industry eating it’s own young, I am afraid. He never had a chance. A member of our family played Michael as a child in the movie, and he and his brother, who was his dance coach on the set, were really traumatized by their short experience of Joe Jackson’s authoritarian rule. Deepest sympathy to Michael Jackson’s children.

  2. 2 steve
    July 9, 2009 at 14:26

    Absolutely. Every been to a doctor and the doctor says you have a “virus” then prescribes you antibiotics? Antibiotics can’t work against virii, yet they still prescribe them so you think they have done something.

  3. 3 Jenifer
    July 9, 2009 at 14:31

    I think that we are much too quick to prescribe medication. Especially to little kids. Alot of parents want to use medication to tranquilize their kids instead of parenting them. Alot of people in general want to “fix” what’s wrong and they become dependent upon pills

    I watch Intervention and I remember one woman on the show just falling over because the pills she took zonked her out. The woman validated her walking comas because she took her medication as prescribed! Treat medical issues; not “pain”.

  4. 4 Tom K in Mpls
    July 9, 2009 at 16:09

    The hippies still love their drugs. But now they have grown up and learned to make them legal. People are looking for shortcuts to a perfect mental state they can’t even define. ‘Am I too mellow?’ ‘ Do I have too much drive?’ People need to accept their lives and live them. They should ignore the sales pitches by drug companies and find inner peace and not a controlled, customized high.

    The real problem is parents passing their problems to their kids. Cigarettes are another example of perpetuating a problem through generations.

  5. 5 Anthony
    July 9, 2009 at 16:20

    @ steve

    I have never in my life been to a Dr. and had him perscribe anti biotics for a virus. The only time they will do this is if the patient begs for it because they want to get better ASAP, so the Anti Biotics can fight off your daily standard stuff, so your body can focus on the virus. I don’t know who your physician is, but I would suggest you change.

    -Anthony, LA, CA

  6. 6 Anthony
    July 9, 2009 at 16:25

    They especially prescribe depression/anxiety pills like candy. So you’re tired, and you have trouble sleeping, and you feel sad….well take a bunch of these pills. I HATE THAT STUFF!!! EVERYONE FEELS LIKE THAT SOMETIME OR ANOTHER!!! Everyone (in the U.S.) wants a quick fix instead of standing up to their problems. I was on that stuff when I was about 16 or 17 and it just made you hide/run away from your problems. Plus when you get off of them you feel even worse.

    At least in California they have medical marijuana, and people can sedate themselves much more naturaly. They hand out those medical weed cards like candy anyways. Hopefully AB390 will pass and marijuana will be legal for everyone and everything in California.

    -Anthony, LA, CA

  7. 7 Justin from Iowa
    July 9, 2009 at 16:29

    Drugs are a treatment of a symptom. You can treat the symptoms of something and get on, probably, but its no where near as strong of a solution as treating the cause and eliminating the symptoms all together.
    I was diagnosed with clinical depression and prescribed happy pills a few years back. The fact that I was being prescribed happy pills was more of a shock to the system and kick in the pants then the actual pills themselves. Putting myself into a change of scenery is what helped me out – not the nebulous benefit of more pill induced endorphins on my brain.
    But that takes work, and is hard, and its much easier to pop your happy pill like a good little drone and keep on keeping on.

  8. 8 Justin from Iowa
    July 9, 2009 at 16:32

    Also, steve, no RESPONSIBLE doctor would do that. Everyone knows that over-prescription of anti-biotics leads to anti-biotic resistant forms of bacteria. There are enough med-resistant strains out there, that nobody wants to fuel more of them. If your doctor regularly does so, I’d worry about what ELSE he does that he shouldn’t be.

  9. 9 Jessica in NYC
    July 9, 2009 at 16:37

    Yes, o’doctor, yes! Every time I get injured or have pain a doctor shoves a prescription for percocet (class 2 narcotic) or vicodin (class 3 narcotic) in my hand. And as a result I have a full cabinet of unused pain relief that I never needed or used beyond 1 dosage—that’s 1 out of 30 pills! I’m not a fan of any kind of pain, but isn’t feeling a little pain our body’s way of telling us to slow down and be careful?

  10. 10 Gary Paudler
    July 9, 2009 at 17:05

    Sure, it’s a lot easier to pop a pill than to do a sit-up, go for a walk or push back from that third box of doughnuts and the usual culprits are only too happy to take our money. I’ve spent a lot of time in hospitals with dying relatives and it’s always the same: “It’s so sad, he did everything right (except eat well, get exercise, quit smoking or stop drinking when his kidneys screamed)” and there’s an extravagant scattershot of prescriptions with no way of knowing what, if anything, is working or how the various compounds might be interacting. It’s our own fault and we’re abetted by some very effective marketing and some very ineffective regulating.

    Summerland, California

  11. 11 patti in cape coral
    July 9, 2009 at 17:38

    While sometimes drugs are necessary to help treat certain conditions, I agree that they are over prescribed. I was prescribed anti-depressants because I was sad about a prolonged separation from my husband. I was still functioning in my daily life. I felt very disconnected and blank when I was taking them, so I weaned myself off of them, because it was dangerous to stop them suddenly. I don’t feel they were correctly prescribed, because I don’t think my depression was chemical in nature, it was because of my situation. In fact, there probably would have been something wrong with me if I wasn’t depressed!

  12. 12 T
    July 9, 2009 at 18:07

    Yes. I follow a holistic lifstyle and haven’t needed meds for almost two years. Despite that, my health coverage won’t cover this. Explain that.

    • 13 Tom K in Mpls
      July 10, 2009 at 13:50

      Simple, the health industry is currently based largely on drugs. This includes the insurance side. Therefore they still tend to discount any other treatment method. It is a lot like the oil companies influencing car companies and the related regulations.

  13. 14 Roberto
    July 9, 2009 at 18:11

    RE “” Nearly seven million Americans abuse prescription drugs- here it’s described as an “epidemic ” “”

    ————– Too many Americans live unhealthy lives at work or play and have been sold a script for every malady the drug companies can make up.

    Yes, Americans are no longer citizens, but disposable consumers now and need to be replaced by more profitable younger consumers after reaching peak years of drug consumption.

    Illegal drugs are illegal because they are easily grown as weeds and there’s no profit except to drug cartels to smuggle them. Legal drugs are so endemic they are appearing in tap water, creeks and rivers as excess are flushed down toilets and dissolve into the water tables.

    Not sure what can be done since the average person is too stupid to see long term ramifications enough to have any say so over the political process to mitigate these egregious injustices to the environment..

  14. 15 Dennis Junior
    July 9, 2009 at 18:20

    Yes, in most cases….Doctors are willing to act quickly to write “scripts” for medications…..

    ~Dennis Junior~

  15. 16 LadyJ
    July 10, 2009 at 00:31

    Of course we are – what a stupid question. Just look at the figures, then look at how much these drug companies are making. We all know how the system works and it’s a scam quite frankly. If we were angry at what the MP’s were up to with our MONEY, then just imagine what dark secrets are lurking within the drug companies…and its our HEALTH being taken for granted.
    Wherever we go in this country and whatever we do, we are nothing more than a statistic. Best advice…refuse to be ‘fobbed off’ by your doctor and insist on alternative treatment where possible, its hard but give it a go. Make them earn their grotesque salary after all, its YOUR life (that they’re not bothered about!)

  16. 17 Ann
    July 10, 2009 at 10:05

    Yes, far too quick, especially with anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medication. But psychiatrists should be mentioned here too I think. Over the past 20-30 years there has been a move towards ‘medicalising’ normal human feelings.

    On the other hand, life saving drugs or effective pain relief, often the expensive ones, can be severely rationed or just not available.

  17. July 10, 2009 at 13:55

    Wow, as those who know me, i say a resounding “YES!!”. I have suffered a tragedy over the past few months. I was in a very loving and healthy relationship for 12 years with my wife. She wasn’t just my wife but my best friend. We were the exemplary couple everybody like to be around. Life was going along great. We had a beautiful toddler now a little over 2 years ago. My wife was suffering from some post partum issues. She had become increasingly anxious and even bitter. A few arguments into it, she realized how these things were not normal. She agreed to seek therapy about the issues.

    Within a few visits her therapist told her to get her general practitioner to prescribe her Prozac. At first I thought this was the miracle drug. The edge came off. She had always had a touch of OCD. Things were actually better then ever. Then came the signs that things were not so well. The main one being that a close relative to my wife died suddenly. Her whole family was emotional around her. She said, “I want to cry, I know I should cry, but I can’t.” Then came the day she woke up and a completely different personality then i had laid next to for more then a decade. She turned to me and said, “i never loved you.” and the devastation of my family began.

    Since then I have learned a lot of the over prescription of the drug class SSRI. I have learned of the suppressed underground of people who have had their lives devastated by them. I have learned that simple test for other conditions and imbalances would be more appropriate then these remedies. Not just me and my daughter, but my family, her family, and close friends are all crushed by this advent.

    The kicker, While HIPA is generally a good idea. In this case the only person the doctor is allowed to talk to is my wife. Ask her and my wife will tell you she has “never been happier”. Never mind the pain and devastation caused by the lack of emotion that result in the use of these drugs

  18. July 10, 2009 at 15:03

    Be familiar with it to prevent it. I have also checked here some examples of drugs or medicine that has no prescription or without prescription MedsWithoutPrescription.net

  19. 20 Roy, Washington DC
    July 10, 2009 at 15:25

    I suspect — though I have no proof — that physicians are encouraged to write prescriptions for almost every patient that walks through the door, so that (like steve said) the patients will think they’ve done something. We also constantly have TV commercials here in the USA that say “Ask your doctor about [rx med]!” If I’m not mistaken, the USA is one of only a couple of countries that allow drugs to be advertised like that.

  20. 21 Dennis Junior
    July 10, 2009 at 15:33

    There are doctors that I know off in New York State (names withheld)….Are quick to write medication without any cares for the best interest of patient safety…

    ~Dennis Junior~

  21. 22 antony
    July 11, 2009 at 10:30

    Prescription drugs, intent to do good, but ultimately fail badly, examples are anti-depressants i know many people who have had there mental state completely go doolally after taking these drugs, would have been better on beer and thin air to be brutally honest, pharmaceutical companies don’t care, aslong as it dont kill, their willing to put it out there for everyone to abuse.

  22. 23 Joan Belfon
    July 13, 2009 at 14:03

    There is absolutely too much dependence on prescription medicine especially in the US. I am particularly concerned about the drugs they give children for everthing fear, phobia, distraction they exhibit. The practice is frighteneing and dangerous. I really believed than more than 50% of the US population walk around high on some prescription drug every day. Drugs have replaced real care and concern, counselling and coming up with legitimate problem-solving strategies to help individuals. If Michael Jackson’s case does and good is to highlight this terrible practice and to force the autorities to do something about it…hopefully they won’t be too tied the the big drig companies and can really act in people’s interest.

  23. 24 Vadim Y
    July 13, 2009 at 17:13

    Definitely. Maybe the pharamceutical industry plays a tiny little role in this? No, that can’t be right. Corporations would never do that…

  24. 25 mg
    August 29, 2009 at 04:55

    Seriously people in this country need to relax, stay away from pathetic people, eat healthy, exercise and think positive !!
    Most docs here have no knowledge of nutrition and wellbeing in general. For everything they have a drug and ofcourse the people here think they need meds for everything !!!
    Anything mild in nature can be treated naturally people !!!!
    The more meds you take for anything simple – the more your immune system gets weak !
    So as I said eat healthy, exercise , think positive and ya quit smoking /drinking !!!

  25. 26 claudiabradshaw
    September 3, 2009 at 11:30

    Claudia here. We had a message on twitter from renesugar on this: Impropriety goes farther than Pfizer’s marketing http://www.counterpunch.org/tsao08202009.html conflicts of interest.

  26. 27 Vijay Pillai
    September 3, 2009 at 11:48

    It doesnot surprise me since several years ago someone surprised me saying one medical doctor gave up his medical practice or medical studies and became an agent for selling drugs to doctors probably making a lot of money to himself and doctors .I am not sure he worked for the same drug company.

  27. 28 gary
    September 3, 2009 at 13:10

    Long ago I worked for a drug company that produced large quantities of a commonly prescribed antibiotic (the Fleming one.) On a plant tour, my group passed an area with 20 Kg drums of the stuff setting about. Our guide casually asked, “Do you know what the biggest trade secret about this stuff is?” Of course everyone expected some wonderful bit of technical expertise; but the answer was simpler. “It is almost as cheap as dirt,” he said. It is true drug companies spend billions on research; but it is also true that when successful, pennys’ worth of substances yield pounds of profit, which is spread ’round to grease appropriate prescribing wheels. It is also well to remember these aren’t just MDs. And of course, all of this became very much more profitable and problematic with the allowance of mass advertising of prescription drugs. As the Pfizer case, and others, illustrates, this industry has begun to share some of the features of the illicit drug trade. Curiously, this makes them more dependent upon our continued ignorant demand than we are upon the drugs themselves. Rather reminds one of the current petroleum problems doesn’t it. I think I see a pattern here…

  28. September 3, 2009 at 13:29

    The answer is an emphatic YES. I don’t live in the west, serious as the situation seems.
    Am sure of one thing though, that Africans would trade a natural life here for an artificial one in the US OR UK. It’s now clearer, the west is yelling of too much drugs, while the other parts of the world- Africa in particular is sobbing for lack of drugs. What a situation?

    I want to add that much of Africa still has easier lives with very few tough calls, while there is nothing except toughness in the western world, but don’t be confused, an African would trade this life he’s got for a, should i say ‘comfortable’ artificial life that claimed MICHAEL JACKSON. Truth is, i have never been prescribed anti-depressants or ever heard of them, but i never seem to escape stress or depression. I usually grapple with malaria. May be i should consider coming to USA OR UK.

  29. 30 Justinian
    September 3, 2009 at 14:02

    Too many are prescribing Ritalin for child ADD, where its mediocre teachers and a less then inspiring curriculim that’s the real problem.

    Crackheads indulge to erase the guilt from their consciousess, while potheads seek the shortest route to nirvania, or whatever – man.

  30. 31 Elizabeth C from Ohio
    September 3, 2009 at 15:18

    It is a definate yes from me. I have what I consider mild ADD and I have refused medication. There is no way to prove that it works for everyone with the condition or in the same way for everyone because everyone is different.. There may also be less expensive ways dealing with a condition or illness that are just as goodas, if not better than, medication. In my case I also don’t have the time to mess with medication. What I mean by that is if I accepted medication they, my doctor or doctors, would have to find the right one for me. Which would take time and then they would have to adjust the dosage over time. In the time they are trying to get the dosage right the medication could not be working or haveing bad effects or harming my body or any number of other things. I don’t have the time to deal with all of that and still live my life.
    I’m not saying that medication is bad, but I am saying that it should be more carefully considered and used as spareingly as possible to prevent resistance and complications.

  31. 32 Andrew in Australia
    September 3, 2009 at 15:47

    Let’s be clear about what depression actually is, different from feeling down or feeling blue. Once you know what real depression is, think about this… and that is unaided and by that I mean no drugs or therapy it is generally accepted that most depression will lift on its own. But of course the medical profession and the drug companies which see dollar signs flash when the word depression comes up would disagree. I don’t know how much time I spent in therapy trying to get people to realise that firstly depression is a part of life and that secondly it will go. Of course there are severe cases but do not make it worse than it is and be sensible about it. But the modern world and its fad of writing about depression and making a cause of it sends the wrong impression. A simple thought but the buddhists have it right that desire is the root of unhappiness and the more the world says you must have this or experience that – and you don’t – then the more you will be unhappy. As the song goes, don’t worry, be happy. Simple but effective. And for goodness sake stop wrapping everyone up in cotton wool. If you don’t face what troubles you then you will always be afraid.

  32. 33 Tom D Ford
    September 3, 2009 at 15:59

    “Drugs company giant, Pfizer, has agreed to pay a record 2.3 billion dollars in a settlement about improperly marketing its drugs in the US and giving doctors perks to encourage them to write prescriptions.”

    I suggest that the question today misses the real problem, which is that Pfizer has a record of illegal activity concerning the drugs they push. Those drugs were sold, not bought!

    Your question blames the victims instead of the pushers.

    I would like to see a more effective way to deal with giant global Corporations like Pfizer who just calculates the risk of continuing their illegal activities and then just buys additional insurance to cover that risk. 2.3 billion dollars is not going to hurt them, their insurance will cover it and then they’ll raise prices and/or increase ads to get more business to cover the cost.

    I’d like to see something different happen, like put their executives in jail, put limitations on the Corporation charter, dismantle the Corporation, or I don’t know what, just so long as it effectively makes the Corporation stop their abuses.

  33. 34 Anthony
    September 3, 2009 at 16:04

    YES YES YES!!! Americans always want the easy way out, the quick fix, the pill. I try not to give my son ANYTHING so that his immune system will bulk up, and that he won’t have that “easy way out” mentality.

    -Anthony, LA, CA

  34. 35 Tom D Ford
    September 3, 2009 at 16:52

    The Rolling Stones in the 1960s sang “… she goes running to the shelter of her “mothers little helper”…”, about her pills to get through the day.

    This is not a new problem.

  35. 36 Reena Dasani
    September 3, 2009 at 17:18

    Every other ad in US is of a prescription drug. They irresponsibly give “symptoms” and encourage people to “self diagnose”. American are prone to want the easy way out, and would rather take a pill for weight loss, depression, heart care cholesterol, etc than take care of themselves. Drug companies are going to take advantage and milk them for as much money as they can. There are no ethics when it comes to corporate profits.
    People need to wake up and put an end to the madness.

    September 3, 2009 at 17:34

    This culture of relying on cures is central to human nature despite inherent weaknesses in most of us to over rely on remedies while our cases may not be all that serious. On the other hand, there is this thing about humans feeling ‘groovy’; whatever that is and actually the genesis of abuse of genuine and questionable drugs alongside narcotics. It may develop into a cult. Some patients doe tell their doctors what they want even though it might not be the relevant remedy.

    Most People in the developed world are now in all manners of feeling ‘good’ and even a simple naked truth scares them. As if that is not enough look at the world of sports especially athletics.

    In the third world too it is all about abuse of un-certified potency of herbs, some of which are lethal in the the wrong run. If you think it is a joke, ask any albino in Tanzania where he or she might be regarded as a cure or a remedy for success.

    It calls for the education and re-education of society once again.

  37. 38 John in Salem
    September 3, 2009 at 17:52

    The problem with treating adult ADD with medication is an odd reversal of the normal problem – it treats the cause without treating the symptoms.
    An ADD brain doesn’t function at quite the same speed as a normal brain – you’re always “half a frame off” of being in sync with the world and your thoughts crowd each other for dominance. It’s been described as having a cocktail party in your head, where you’re trying to have a conversation with 1 person while 3 or 4 other people are tugging at your arm trying to get your attention.
    In my case the stimulants help me to stay focused on the task at hand without being easily distracted but do little to help me unlearn 58 years of behavior. They don’t prioritize the tasks that need my attention for me, they don’t write notes to remind me of things I need to do, they don’t tell me how to renegotiate relationships and they don’t tell me how to translate non-verbal cues from other people that I used to miss entirely.
    An enormous amount of money is being spent to keep doctors supplied with new drugs to dole out for conditions like ADD when in fact those resources would be better spent on developing coaching programs and life courses to help people learn how to deal with the real world rather than just the world in their heads.

    September 3, 2009 at 17:54

    Most homes now have gone past the first aid box to a full and complete pharmacy in house – arms race? Unfortunately, they believe everything they are told or what is in their mind. Seriously though, sometimes you cannot blame them while medics continue to assume a role akin to that of insurance brokers. Very few manufacturers will tell us fully about the toxicity of their drugs and only elate your feelings so that you can dig deeper for that expensive drug.

    Treatment period some diseases if not all should be defined. At the end of it the patient should be weaned off drugs though most of the modern medicine world would be opposed to this because they would only profit from continuous prescriptions.

  39. 40 T
    September 3, 2009 at 21:57

    Keep in mind a $2.3 billion fine is nothing to them. This comes from the global greed-is-good mentality.

  40. September 4, 2009 at 08:31

    You will be taken for a ride if you are willing to go for a ride! Drug companies are taking the advantage of your fears & ignorance.
    All medicines will have side effects. Only if the condition is severe & the positives outweigh the negatives, one should take medicines.

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