Prescription for Death

By Dr. David Williams

The big news these days seems to be all of the recent recalls and warnings about the dangers of various pharmaceutical drugs, particularly anti-inflammatory medications.

It seems like every day the media "uncovers" another dangerous drug. First there was the revelation that taking Vioxx, the popular arthritis medication, had the side effect of increasing the risk of having a heart attack or stroke. Then another COX-2 inhibitor, Celebrex, came under scrutiny for possibly increasing the same risks. Supposedly, the FDA is taking a closer look at the broader class of anti-inflammatory medications called nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). These include many of the popular over-the-counter medications such as naproxen (Aleve) and ibuprofen (Motrin and Advil).

Some people will claim that this is the end of modern medicine as we know it. They will proelaim that the floodgates have been opened and people will finally begin to see the error of their ways. It's not going to happen. The whole situation will be nothing more than a temporary blip on the health radar screen.

Nothing will significantly change. The public will continue to take and demand drugs to treat their symptoms. The FDA will continue to stress that everything is okay as long as drug users follow the dosing instructions on the labels. And the pharmaceutical manufacturers will continue to put the "correct" spin on studies to convince the public it needs their products. The only change that might take place is a modification of our laws that would further proteck drug manufacturers from product liability. You can bet the pharmaceutical companies will be making a bigger push in this direction.

This end result goes back to the "Golden Rule" that I've discussed in the past: "whoever has the most gold makes the rules." And there are obscene amounts of gold involved here--Vioxx alone had annual sales of over $1.7 billion in 2003. Pharmaceutical companies spend far more on the marketing and promotion of drugs (some estimates are as high as $20,000 to $25,000 per doctor) than they do on research and development.

The pharmaceutical companies have done an amazing propaganda job of convincing the public that drugs are the safe, effective answer to all health woes. The idea that a drug might actually increase the user's risk of serious disease or death apparently shocks everyone. I really don't understand why. Rather than blindly accepting television commercials as gospel, all one has to do is read the warnings for the drugs (which are actually grossly understated) and open their eyes to what's going on around them.

Drugs don't cure disease. Instead, they mask symptoms without regard to what might be causing the underlying problem in the first place. In the process, the production of certain hormones can be suppressed while others are indiscriminately increased. Drugs also deplete minerals and vitamins, and they routinely interfere with the formation of prostaglandins, enzymes, and hundreds of other essential compounds. What has recently come to light with Vioxx, Celebrex, and the NSAIDs is that these side effects can be more dangerous than the symptom being treated with drugs. The side effects and problems created are only compounded when you add more than one drug to the picture.

There's no doubt that drugs can save lives under the right circumstances and situations. Antibiotics can help fight massive infections that would overcome the normal defenses of the body. Supplemental hormones can be a godsend when organs can't produce their own supply because they are damaged or cease to function. However, our society has been brainwashed into thinking routine drug use is "better living through chemistry."

The majority of individuals have accepted the false premise that popping a pill is at least as effective as making changes to their diet and lifestyle. They believe the premise because they want to; what they know for sure is that the pill is less of an inconvenience. It's a quick-fix solution to eliminating present symptoms, but a very short-sighted approach in the longer term.

Questionable Benefits of Drugs

When it comes to pain killers, and the use of the COX-2 inhibitors and NSAIDs mentioned above, there is little, if any, scientific evidence to support their use for arthritis. In fact, any possible beneficial effects are offset by side effects, such as intestinal bleeding from older NSAIDs and the increase in heart attack and strokes from the others. In fact, there has never been any evidence that they are beneficial in the long run. (BMJ 04;329(7478):1317) The same thing is true for other classes of drugs.

Regardless of what you may have been led to believe, research doesn't support the idea that lowering cholesterol levels increases one's lifespan. The studies that report less risk of heart attack from lower cholesterol levels also show increased deaths from cancer and suicide. I strongly suspect we'll see a frightening picture begin to emerge if longer-term, more intensive studies are ever undertaken on the subject.

One of cholesterol's functions is to form, support, and protect cell membranes and nervous tissue. It only makes sense that "depleting' cholesterol would leave these areas more vulnerable to injury and destruction, and lead to an increased risk of neurological problems and cancer. Cholesterol lowering drugs, including the new popular statin drugs, work by interfering with normal liver function. They may also interfere with the liver's ability to neutralize excess hormones and environmental toxins, which would also lead to increased risk of cancer and various neurological problems. (If you need or want further research support concerning this, I suggest you read the book The Cholesterol Myths by Uffe Ravnskov.)

There are even legitimate questions as to whether the use of blood pressure-lowering medications decrease one's lifespan. While the benefits of lowering one's high blood pressure through exercise, diet, and supplements are well known, the use of drugs to achieve the effect may be causing a host of other problems and premature death. Undoubtedly, a much closer look needs to be taken at this issue now that pharmaceutical companies and the National Institutes of Health have promoted new guidelines on what constitutes high blodd pressure(not to mention the new classification called "pre-hypertension"), which I'm sure will be used to justify preventive drug treatment in the not-so-distant future.

Awful Dollar Drain

And by now everyone knows about the use of amphetamines to treat children for so-called ADD/ADHD (over 8.5 million kids in this country). The problem has become so pervasive that in high schools and colleges this form of "speed" is in hot demand and sells for $5 to $10 a pill. It is rapidly becoming accepted as a way to enhance academic performance by allowing students to stay up later during studies and remain more alert in class. When I was growing up, we were taught that "speed kills." Apparently the new message for kids is that "speed heals."

The pharmaceutical companies feel they have pretty much saturated the children's market, and have begun to introduce their drugs to the adult population under the guise of treating Adult-ADD.

The latest drug, Strattera, was developed by its maker, Eli Lilly, as an antidepressant in the 1990s. Apparently they were unable to find a market for the drug until they came up with the idea of Adult ADD. They now estimate that 8 million adults suffer from the disease in this country alone. They even have a short six-question screening test to help determine if you have the problem. Reportedly, if you answer "yes" to at least 4 of the questions you have over a 90 percent chance of having ADD and can be helped with their antidepressant medication. After having read the questions, I would venture to say that practically every adult in the world suffers from the problem, with the exception of someone in a coma or already in a stupor from taking antidepressants. See for yourself.

  1. Do you have trouble wrapping up the final details of a project once the challenging parts have been done?
  2. Do you have difficulty getting things in order when you have a task to do that requires organization?
  3. Do you have problems remembering appointments or obligations?
  4. Do you avoid or delay getting started on tasks that require a lot of thought?
  5. Do you fidget or squirm with your hands or feet when you have to sit down for long periods of time?
  6. Do you ever feel overly active and compelled to do things like you were driven by a motor?

They're Everywhere, They're Everywhere!

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but someone had to tell you that we all have some degree of Adult-ADD. The good news is that antidepressants can solve our problems and make us more socially acceptable and productive in the workplace.

As ridiculous as this propaganda is, over six million prescriptions for Strattera have already been written since 2002, and the market continues to grow. No wonder there seems to be little, if any, concern from the public over athletes that use performance-enhancing drugs, or the legalized drugging of infants and children, or the growing problem with reliance on drugs in this country.

Currently, 49 percent of women in the US take prescription drugs, and 39 percent of men. That works out to over 40 percent of Americans taking at least one prescription drug, and one in six taking at least three different drugs. Of those under the age of 18, over 24 percent now take prescription drugs. This ever-increasing drug use has become one of the leading causes of death. Ten years ago, a study found that over 200,000 people each year died from prescription drug use, compared to only 20,000 who died from illegal drug use. (Arch Intern Med 95;155(18):1949-56)

I'm sure these numbers have gone up substantially, but just try to get a hold of the data. "Adverse drug reaction" is now the most common cause of injury in hospitalized patients. (Arch Intern Med 02;164:(7):785-92) And if that's not scary enough, it's been reported that 40 percent of impaired or dead drivers show prescription drugs in their system. (www.AddictionByPrescription.com)

Misplaced Priorities

Only when one steps back and takes a 'look at the situation does it become obvious how absurd the situation has become. Some doctors are now advising their patients to permanently eliminate grapefruit and cranberries from their diet because they interfere with the absorption and metabolism of their prescription drugs. We're talking about the same fruits that contain compounds that have been shown to reduce body fat, clear arteries, strengthen capillaries, prevent cancer, stop urinary tract infections, and provide dozens of Other benefits.

If our diet was rich in foods like these, there probably wouldn't be a reason to be on the medications in the first place. Hippocrates, the Father of Medicine, once said, "Let your food be your medicine and your medicine be your food." I guess that's another phrase that technology and modern medicine feel is obsolete.

I have no intention of scaring people completely away from prescription or over-the-counter drugs. I only hope they learn the truth about drugs--their potential benefits, but also their dangerous and long-term side effects. Pharmaceutical companies and government agencies who are supposed to be protecting the public have no interest in publicizing the full story. If the facts were in the open, the public could make educated decisions and live with the consequences. But that won't happen. It goes against the Golden Rule.

Before you take any medication, realize that it will have side effects, and many will be unknown-particularly if you take it long-term. No drug is risk-free. Being "legitimized" by advertising, FDA approval, or your doctor doesn't make it any safer.

Determine what you're trying to accomplish. If it's relief of symptoms, then you should be looking at trying to resolve the deeper cause of the symptoms. You wouldn't disconnect the oil light in your car to stop it from coming on and expect the problem to be resolved. And you shouldn't take a drug just to cover up a warning sign or symptom of some underlying problem. The deeper cause might be hormone imbalance, an improper diet, lack of exercise, unresolved stress, a spiritual problem, a mechanical problem, or a mineral or vitamin deficiency. Rest assured, though, it's not a drug deficiency. Whenever possible, fix the problem and forgo the medication.

If medication actually makes one healthier, then someone needs to show me all the healthy people taking these drugs.

Holladay Physical Medicine - 4211 Holladay Blvd. Salt Lake City, UT - 801-272-8471 Please read the Disclaimer