Pill-Popping Culture: America's Dependence on Prescription Drugs
America loves pills. They react quickly in our bodies, generally within minutes or hours, and work with nothing more than water and a functioning GI tract (some require food for absorption). In today’s world, where unemployment rates and stock market figures fluctuate constantly, pills quickly relieve and control stress. For those of us who don’t believe in these wonder cures, marketers are quick to suck us in with about $5 billion a year spent on prescription pill ads.
An American Epidemic
A debate continues to wage as to whether or not American doctors over-prescribe. At one spectrum of this argument, critics point to drug epidemics in various age groups as signs of a pill-popping culture. For instance, more than 40 percent of Americans age 65 and older take five medications per day, according to a 2008 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. And, each year, more than one-third will suffer an adverse side effect as a result.
Currently, 34 percent of American adults take at least one prescription drug. If you dig deeper into these findings, you’ll see those at both the highest and lowest income levels are more likely to take pills than those in the middle class. It is, however, the lowest income Americans who are more likely to be on four or more drugs. Among the many possible explanations for this is the theory that lower income respondents generally wait a long time to receive medical care and thus requires greater drug intervention. The second possibility is that we are seeing the by-product of poorly coordinated Federal care, a system that allows for and, in fact, encourages poor patients to be on as many drugs as possible to ensure repeat visits for doctors.
Another problem can be found in the field of mental health, in which more than 20 percent of Americans take at least one medication to treat such disorders as anxiety, attention deficit, and depression. This number is up 22 percent since 2001. In a 2011 article in the New York Times, reporter Charles Barber asserted Americans are “vastly over-medicated for often relatively minor mental health concerns.” Going hand in hand with this theory is the suggestion that we self-medicate as a society, often turning to substances like pills and alcohol when something doesn’t feel right.
The Pro-Pill Argument
Some experts however, do not see an issue. The reason that our financial support of the pharmaceutical industry provides it with the means necessary to develop new life saving medicines. Further, in many cases, drugs are the only option for managing a condition.
Regardless of which end of the spectrum you are on, some doctors suggest health, not health care, should be a mantra of policy. The greatest effects on health come from nutrition, sanitation, physical activity, and rest. A daily 15-minute walk can do more for the public health than hundreds of billions in further health care costs.
Moreover, some doctors think mild depression may be beneficial because it forces us to face our issues and dissect what is happening in our lives and heads. Because of this, therapists believe other mental health treatments (such as counseling) should be explored first because putting a pharmaceutical bandage over emotions often prevents us from finding the source of true happiness. Other experts have further suggested that stress-reduction techniques and a healthy diet can bring us back to a positive mental state.
It thus appears the over-medication debate will continue indefinitely. Perhaps the best thing you can do is follow your own health regimen and find wholesome activities that contribute to your sense of well-being.