Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Avoiding too much medication

One of my big beefs is how much medication we, as Americans, take. It actually made top headlines the other day, too: Prescription drug spending doubled in less than a decade.

Now, obviously part of this has to do with out-of-control health care costs. The cost of prescription drugs is rising rapidly.

But part of it also has to do with how many more drugs we are taking now. For instance, the percentage of people who took five or more drugs in the past month doubled as well, from 6 percent to 11 percent in 10 years. (Increases in those who took one or two drugs in the last month are more modest, but when you think about what this means in terms of the big picture, I think it's still pretty alarming.)

Why are Americans taking so many more drugs now? The most commonly used drugs are what you might expect: statins, antidepressants, and for children and teens, medications for asthma and ADD/ADHD.

I personally feel that as a society, we are overmedicating ourselves. Now there is a fine line to draw between what is actually needed, and what is too much. For instance, I really do need insulin, because my body no longer makes it (or at least not enough to keep me alive). A cancer patient really does need chemo, and someone who has had an organ transplant really does need the medications that keep his body from rejecting the new organ.

(You'll have to forgive me if there is a medication you really need that I haven't mentioned. I don't pretend to know much about other diseases, even if I know a lot about my own, and I'm sure many people are the same way.)

But where to draw the line? Do we medicate little Johnny to keep him from acting out in class, or do we try harder to work with him? Do we give someone statins to keep their cholesterol low, or do we encourage them to improve their diet and their lifestyle? Isn't the route of less medication, if it's available, always the healthier choice?

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