Ending The American Pill Epidemic

Earthquakes, tsunamis, and storms are all natural disasters we must live with, but unnecessarily taking more pills, tablets, over the counter drugs, and supplements is reaching catastrophic levels. In the US, we’ve stopped healing the ill. Our healthcare system is riddled with polypharmacy- and it’s killing us.

The simultaneous use of multiple drugs to treat a single ailment or condition- a staple treatment method in the US healthcare system- is commonly referred to as polypharmacy.

70% of Americans take at least one prescription pill regularly 

Since 2013, 70% of Americans take at least one prescription medication regularly, and more than half take at least two, according to research conducted by the Mayo Clinic. The 3 most common prescriptions being for antibiotics, antidepressants and opioid painkillers.

And people age 45 and older say they take up to four prescription medications daily on average, according to  the AARP (Formerly known as the American Association of Retired Persons.)

According to the CDC’s 2016 annual list of most common cause of deaths, medical errors in healthcare are ranked third as the leading cause of death in our country. I believe our medical system has become more deadly due to the overprescription of drugs.

Overuse is creating resistance

Each year in the United States, at least 2 million people become infected with bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics and at least 23,000 people die each year as a direct result of these infections, according to the CDC. And to make matters worse, even more people die from other conditions that were complicated by an antibiotic-resistant infection.

Misdiagnosing illness

One in 10 Americans now takes an antidepressant medication regularly. And among women in their 40s and 50s, the figure is one in four. But this high number is largely due to the fact depression is being diagnosed incorrectly in the US- which means a lot of people are plagued with the deadly side effects of antidepressants without any added benefits.

A study published in April 2013 in the Journal Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics, found that nearly two-thirds of a sample of more than 5,000 patients who had been given a diagnosis of depression within the previous 12 months did not meet the criteria for major depressive episode as described by the psychiatrists’ bible, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (or D.S.M.).

Addiction and overdoses are a deadly problem

It’s undeniable that overdoses from prescription opioids are a driving factor in the 15-year increase in opioid overdose deaths. On average, 91 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose, according to the CDC.

Since 1999, the amount of prescription opioids sold in the U.S. nearly quadrupled with more than a half a million deaths from drug overdoses, yet the CDC points out there has not been an overall change in the amount of pain that Americans reports.

The truth is from my experience, I often fail to see improvement in quality of life for my patients taking these 3 types of medications. And although we are living longer, the majority of elderly over age 65 struggle with chronic disease and conditions.

Holistic strategies to regain control over your healthcare

I believe it is possible to prevent cases of cancers, heart disease, and adult onset diabetes (obesity driven) with changes in our nutrition, exercise, environment, and mental health. If you are currently on prescription medications but would like to switch to a more holistic approach to healing, you may find these tips helpful:

  • Go over your meds (including over the counter and supplements) with your Doctor or Pharmacist-ask which you really need and which could be replaced with lifestyle changes
  • Get rid of expired meds and keep all meds from child access! Just be sure to dispose of meds in an environmentally safe fashion by dropping them off at a local hospital and pharmacy programs. Do not just flush them down your toilet.
  • Consider seeing an integrative physician, an expert in combining modern medicine with individualized lifestyle care.
  • Consider a health coach, nutritionist, or sports trainer for fitness and an individualized health plan.
  • Seek Mental Health Balance with meditation, breathing, and yoga.
  • Enjoy human interaction in your family and community and take breaks from news and social media.
  • Always think health Promotion and disease prevention first for you and your family.
  • Always ask pharmacist if an over the counter med is appropriate or have any interactions with your other meds.
  • Some supplements, vitamins, and botanicals are appropriate with certain deficiencies or conditions while others potentially can cause harm. Be sure to ask your doctor or pharmacists which are safe and effective, and be sure to buy them from a USP certified pharmacy.
  • Keep a current list of your meds and supplements and review your need from them every few months

Moving in the right direction isn’t throwing out medications altogether

There are instances where medications do have vital roles in emergencies, critically ill, and in other specifically targeted conditions. Treating pneumonia, a heart attack, an embolism, a cancer, or an infection are all examples we are familiar with. But as a society, we must push for our government agencies to promote lifestyle strategies as the first line of defense of health and wellness instead of treating our ailments by popping pills.

This blog post was written by Dr. Joseph Mosquera and copy edited by Elara Mosquera.