The Drugging of America Op Ed

What makes a good drug company?

Today there are a full nine million kids on long-term psychiatric drugs. A look at these staggering numbers makes one wonder how the baby boomers ever got to where they are today without these mass ongoing medications.

Drug companies have shifted from prescriptions that deal with a specific illness and are finished in a short amount of time to long term prescription plans. The classic take this for 10 days model for antibiotics and other medicine is now the take this twice a day forever model. Drug companies and Wall Street can barely contain their glee at the recurring revenue stream: an ongoing annuity that adds great predictability to quarterly earnings.

In an age of corporate scandals, the focus on business ethics has rarely been equaled. Merck, for example, often rises to the top of the list, like when it was honored by Management and Excellence SA, an organization whos annual list of ethical companies includes such infamous names as Exxon, Philip Morris and Wal Mart. Many who would label a company ethical are missing the forest for the trees. The powers that be would have us believe that companies who avoid Enron-type accounting are ethical, but ethics have to do with a lot more than simply keeping good books. By definition, drug companies perform better by selling more drugs, not necessarily by curing patients.

So who is looking out for the patient? The doctor perhaps? Many patients are unaware that much of the ongoing education doctors receive comes directly from drug companies or from groups that are sponsored by drug companies. Even more disturbing is the aggressive sales tactics and even bonus systems that doctors are subjected to in an effort to get them to write more life-long prescriptions.

The holistic medicine community suffers from as much quackery as conventional medicine but it also has some reputable cures. Suppose that a certain vegetable could cure a major ailment. Would this be happy news for drug companies? By their very nature these companies must focus on more illness and more medication to exist.

Society also needs to examine what the long term effects of these drugs are. Since initial FDA trials do not examine drugs on a decade by decade basis because it is not practical to do so, it could be years before we know what affect the long term use of these drugs have on our nations children.

Psychiatric drugs are often unfortunately a way for Americans to medicate our lifestyles. Numerous fatigue drugs are abused to the point that people with absolutely no medical problem whatsoever take them simply to compensate for lifestyle-induced fatigue. Parents and school administrators are using drugs as a method of control and regulation of children. Antidepressants are being used, not just for people with chemical imbalances but for people who have recently been laid off or have other, non medical issues, all paid for by you and me.

The costs are also very high; while a two week antibiotic prescription might cost $30, a Ritalin prescription for the hyperactive child can cost over $1000 each and every year. This translates into much higher insurance premiums and overall medical costs. This decreases funds for legitimate medical needs and can adversely affect patients choices in the selection of a doctor or the payments made for various preventive measures. The incredible power the drug companies wield over the AMA and even the insurance industry further perpetuates this problem.

So what is the solution? In looking for cures, medical providers need to look to their roots: in science. Scientific principle essentially states that ideas are to be tested and then proven or disproved: it is in this principle that the solution lies. Doctors must demand that the science behind any treatment they recommend is sound and resist marketing campaigns at all costs. Incidentally, this solves the question of holistic versus conventional medicine. There should be no separation of the two, just a solid and independent testing process that separates medicine into categories of those that work and those that don't. With as many ancient remedies and new wave elixirs as there are drugs, there is certainly as much bad science as good on the holistic side as on the conventional medicine side. These also must be examined, like the conventional drugs, not just to find true cures but to root out frauds that exist on both sides. Patients must insist on methods that are proven before accepting treatment. Doctors, as the first line and most important part of the client-care equation must take the lead in seeking the best independent science so that they can break free from billion dollar ad campaigns and focus on what they really want to do: get patients well.