There are enormous variations across the U.S. in how much doctors and hospitals spend on drugs to treat Medicare patients. But there was found to be no correlation between that spending and how well patients did. And in regions with higher per capita medical spending, patients were more likely to be given prescriptions for riskier drugs.
"[The] second study found that when Medicare stopped paying so much for a drug that could be used inappropriately, doctors used it less often -- and more effectively."
There is a dangerous misconception in the United States, among both patients and physicians, that when you're sick you need a drug to feel better. Indeed,in some cases properly prescribed medications can and do save lives.
But in the vast majority of cases, drugs are overused and overprescribed, even in cases where the risks far exceed any potential benefits.
So this new study from the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine, which found absolutely no correlation between spending more on drugs and improved patient outcomes, is really no surprise.
And a second study, also in the New England Journal of Medicine, revealed rather glaringly that when physicians' reimbursements for drugs fell, so did the prescribing rates. And they were not withholding the drugs from patients who may have needed them … they tended to cut out all those unnecessary or inappropriate subscriptions instead.
When the Cure is Worse than the Disease
The average American, aged 19 to 64, now takes close to 12 prescription drugs every year!
The average senior typically fills over 31 prescriptions every year, and even children, between the ages of 0-18, are taking an average of close to 4 prescriptions annually.
But with all of these drugs, Americans are not walking around with stellar health.
Instead, chronic disease rates are rising and the latest study published in Health Affairs revealed that the United States now ranks 49th for male and female life expectancy worldwide, a ranking that has fallen sharply from fifth place in 1950.
At the same time that life expectancy has been declining at faster rates than many other industrialized nations, per capita health spending has been on the rise.
Specifically, U.S. per capita health spending rose at nearly twice the rate of other developed countries between 1970 and 2002, which means the U.S. spends more than twice the amount on health care as other developed nations.
Part of this spending is going toward the excessive and unnecessary use of prescription drugs, which as Reuters reported, Dr. Paul Griner of the University of Rochester estimated that unnecessary or inappropriate tests and procedures add up to about 20 percent of health care spending.
Prescription Drugs Can Make Your Health Worse
Taking medications is clearly not the route to optimal health that the modern medical system would have you believe it is.
Instead, researchers noted in Health Affairs that among the most likely suspects for Americans' declining health were unnecessary medical procedures and an uncoordinated system with fragmented care, where patients rely on numerous providers to treat various bits and pieces of a problem, rather than seeking out one provider who will treat them as a whole.
This system, as you may have experienced first-hand, is becoming known throughout the world not for its technology or advances but for its alarming rates of medical errors and poor results in relation to its astronomical costs.
Ten years ago, Professor Bruce Pomerance of the University of Toronto concluded that properly prescribed and correctly taken pharmaceutical drugs were the fourth leading cause of death in the US. More recently, Johns Hopkins Medical School refined this research and discovered that medical errors and prescription drugs together may actually be the LEADING cause of death.
So the primary form of "health care" and treatment in the United States may actually prematurely kill more people than any disease plaguing our society!
Adverse Drug Reactions Much More Common than You Might Think
More than 700,000 people visit U.S. emergency rooms each year as a result of adverse drug reactions. And, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), adverse drug reactions from drugs that are properly prescribed and properly administered cause about 106,000 deaths per year, making prescription drugs the fourth-leading cause of death in the U.S.
Compare this to the death toll from illegal drugs -- which is about 10,000 per year -- and you begin to see the magnitude of the problem that the pharmaceutical industry is propagating.
According to one Newsweek article, only heart disease, cancer, and stroke kill more Americans than drugs prescribed by medical doctors! Reactions to prescription drugs kill more than twice as many Americans as HIV/AIDS or suicide. Fewer die from accidents or diabetes than adverse drug reactions.
Then there is the issue of polypharmacy, which refers to the poisonous chemical cocktail of multiple drugs that many people are taking. This is an increasing health concern not just for the elderly, but for everyone.
Dr. Michael Stern, a specialist in geriatric emergency medicine at New York Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center, told the New York Times:
"Polypharmacy is responsible for up to 28 percent of hospital admissions and, if it were classified as such, it would be the fifth leading cause of death in the United States."
So far, only a handful of drug interactions are noted to be dangerous. For instance:
- Ibuprofen can cause bleeding ulcers when taken with prescription painkillers.
- Combining ginkgo biloba with blood-thinning drugs like aspirin or warfarin can lead to severe bleeding.
- The antibiotic erythromycin can lead to a toxic reaction when combined with certain cholesterol-lowering drugs, potentially leading to kidney failure.
Unfortunately, most drug interactions are discovered by accident and entirely too late -- or are not discovered at all because people may not equate their symptoms to their medications. Of course, even if you only take one prescription drug at a time, there's still a risk.
Optimal Health Can be Reached without Drugs
Most of you know that I rarely recommend pharmaceuticals, and in fact my mission is to transform the existing medical paradigm from one addicted to pharmaceuticals, surgeries and other methods that only conceal or remove specific symptoms -- with morbid results to our health and economy -- to one focused on treating and preventing the foundational underlying causes.
In many cases, your health will actually improve when you stop taking drugs and are no longer subjected to their side effects.
You should not stop any medications you are currently taking until you are working with a knowledgeable natural health care practitioner who can help guide you, but minimizing your use of drugs should be a goal if you want to achieve optimal health.
Keep in mind, too, that many drugs are designed to create life-long dependency.
For instance, acid-reducing medications actually induce acid-related symptoms like heartburn and acid regurgitation once treatment is withdrawn. Headache drugs can also cause "medication overuse headaches" leading you to seek another drug to relieve the pain caused by the first one.
It's all too common to have to take one or more additional drugs solely to treat side effects caused by your initial drug treatment, so the more you can stay away from this warped system, the better.
The desire to solve problems by taking drugs is a product of our culture, perpetuated by everyone, from drug manufacturers, to doctors, to government health officials, to you.
When you teach your child that the appropriate response to pain or discomfort is to take a pill, the obvious result is that he will seek comfort by taking drugs when faced with the challenges of adolescence and, later, as an adult.
Please know that you and your family CAN take control of your health, and you can typically do so without using medications.
My site is chock full of free comprehensive recommendations that can serve as an excellent starting point. The tools I provide on this site will help you to reduce your reliance on the broken health care system, including its overuse of drugs.