It is happening more often than people would care to admit; people turning towards prescription medication for what traditionally would have been treated with rest, exercise, or making changes in one’s lifestyle. One of the most alarming trends is the use of atypical antipsychotics, a class that includes eleven different types of drugs. Up until a decade ago, these drugs were only used for the most disabling mental illnesses (primarily bipolar disorder and schizophrenia).
When they were used sparingly, only three percent of Americans were prescribed these drugs. Nowadays, primary-care doctors and psychiatrists prescribe these types of drugs for conditions that the drugs were never even approved for. These problems include dementia, behavioral problems in toddlers, problems sleeping, attention-deficit disorder, and anxiety.
These new drugs such as Abilify, Zyprexa, and Seroquel, make up approximately 90 percent of the atypical antipsychotics market. Recent reports found that adolescents and kids in foster care are taking more psychotropic drugs than other kids are – even more than children that have a severe form of mental illness. There are reports of children as young as 18-months of age that were prescribed medication for bipolar disorder, though this is a mental illness that rarely develops before adolescence. So why is it that as a society we appear to want to be medicated, what is causing these problems?
The Problem With Marketing
Part of the problem is the fact that pharmaceutical companies have changed their primary goal over the course of the last few decades. A few decades ago, their intent was to heal, provide medical breakthroughs and of course, money was an incentive. However, good medication would sell itself because it cures something that patients suffer from.
Nowadays, pharmaceutical companies have become more interested in marketing their product, trying to get people interested in their product before these patients even know they have a problem. Today these companies spend more on marketing their product than they do on research and development. The overall strategy has changed; these companies are using broad terms and symptoms that most people occasionally suffer from. Who doesn’t feel overwhelmed at times? Who doesn’t feel sad about something, who doesn’t suffer from an upset stomach once in a while? By targeting the consumer directly, these companies are generating a demand for a product and this is not how medicine should work.
There appears to be a pill or cream for just about every problem that you could possible think of. Anything ranging from overall unhappiness to having trouble sleeping, from restless leg syndrome to toenail fungus – everything now has an instant cure. It has become normal for people to reach for a pill that will take care of their problems as quickly as possible at the first hint that a problem might be present. People no longer want to put in the effort to fix problems the natural way. They don’t want to change their lifestyle, give up certain foods, exercise more, people want the quickest solution with the least amount of effort.
The Problem With Side Effects
When looking at some of the side effects of commonly prescribed drugs, they usually sound worse than the very symptoms that they are meant to treat. These possible adverse effects can include cancer, irreversible bone loss, kidney failure, stroke, and heart attack. When the Food and Drug Administration approved many of these drugs for use, these dangers were either underestimated or undetected entirely.
Even though many prescription medications can improve the quality of life for many people, even save their life, there is no such thing as a completely safe drug. Every type of medication comes with a risk, even those common, over-the-counter drugs such as aspirin and acetaminophen. Every single time that someone puts a pill in their mouth that they have never taken before, they are essentially taking part in an experiment.
The problem with people not recognizing the dangers of these side effects stems from the aggressive marketing as well. When certain side effects are read off as a list of things that “could potentially happen” it simply does not register anymore. Because of the constant repetition (you tend to see the same advertisements every commercial block), these warnings lose their luster over time.
Once these side effects do become problematic, people use new, additional drugs to address these new ailments instead of approaching them in a different way. This creates a dangerous cycle, especially considering that these new drugs are undoubtedly going to come with side effects of their own.
The Problem With Availability
Prescription drug abuse is on the rise in the United States. The latest numbers have shown that as many as one in five teenagers abuse prescription medication; that is approximately 20% of all American teenagers experimenting with prescription medication. This is a shocking statistic and not something you would see with narcotics such as heroin or cocaine. Part of the problem is the availability of these types of medication and the fact that they are constantly being normalized by showing these advertisements and prescribing them for even the most basic problems.
Especially considering that teenagers can get these prescriptions from home medicine cabinets or purchase them illegally through Internet pharmacies. These types of drugs are considered far less ‘dangerous’ because doctors prescribe them to people, even though addiction, injury, or even death can just as easily occur as it would with illicit drugs. If fewer drugs were prescribed, the access to prescription or over-the-counter drugs would be far less.
Our Overall Attitude Needs To Change
Of course, it would be unfair to put all the blame on pharmaceutical companies, or the FDA, or the doctors prescribing these medications. We must ask ourselves as a society why the rate of prescription drug use is constantly increasing; why we are clearly happy to keep swallowing those pills and tablets. For many of these ailments, we know the solution. We have grown complacent as a society. We want everything done for us instead of putting in the effort to solve it ourselves.
Another problem is that it has become normal for us to want to put things off until we NEED to address them rather than dealing with them preemptively. The issue of procrastination is also at play. We need to take a step back and look at the fact that when negative symptoms arise, we do not deal with the elements of our lifestyle that might have caused these negative symptoms, but instead address the symptoms themselves.