By Dr. Mercola
There were a record 4.02 billion prescriptions written in the United States in 20111 – that's more than ever before.
There are 314 million people in the United States, and with 4.02 billion prescriptions, that amounts to roughly 12.74 prescriptions per person.
The cost for all these prescriptions? $308.6 billion, a hefty sum that is likely to continue to soar even higher as Americans grasp at what they believe to be the solution to their failing health.
Sadly, many will have their hopes go unanswered, as most of the top-selling drugs treat conditions that are better treated with lifestyle changes, healthy food and other forms of natural healing.
Putting your health, your very life, in the hands of drug companies is a frightening prospect when you consider the leading pharmaceutical companies are also among the largest corporate criminals in the world, behaving as if they are little more than white-collar drug dealers.
As these companies have shown time and again, they consistently put profits above human health.
Top 10 Drug Company Settlements
Big Pharma lawsuits, especially those that settle in the hundreds of millions or billions, are intended to make these criminal corporations start to straighten out, abandon their fraud and deception, their kickbacks, price-setting, bribery and all other illegal sales activities in favor of looking out for public health, which to date has been clearly ineffective.
Most of these settlements amount to a mere slap on the wrist for the drug company, which typically will continue right along with their deceitful behaviors. As reported in Time,2 an editorial in the New England Journal of Medicine3 echoed these sentiments, calling for change:
"…levy large enough fines against drug companies for illegal behavior, so that the payouts can't be dismissed as merely 'the cost of doing business;' offer more protections for whistleblowers; and perhaps most importantly, file criminal charges against drug company executives for misconduct that could put them in prison."
Time recently compiled a list of the top 10 drug company settlements,4 and while they are significant, they seem to be of little deterrent to the companies' unethical, and dangerous, behaviors:
10. 2007: Bristol-Myers Squibb paid $515 million for illegally promoting its atypical antipsychotic drug Abilify to kids and seniors (despite a black box warning that warned of potentially fatal side effects in the elderly). Other accusations included giving payments, kickbacks and expensive vacations to medical professionals and pharmacist to dispense its drugs.
9. 2010: AstraZeneca settled for $520 million for trying to persuade doctors to prescribe its psychotropic drug Seroquel for unapproved uses ranging from Alzheimer's disease and ADHD to sleeplessness and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Using Seroquel for improper use has been linked to an increased risk of death.
Company executives also promoted the drug for weight loss, highlighting one favorable study while burying others that linked it to substantial weight gain.
8. 2007: Purdue Pharma paid $634.5 million for fraudulently misbranding Oxycontin, and suggesting it was less addictive and less abused than other painkillers. The company was charged with using misleading sales tactics, minimizing risks and promoting it for uses for which it was not appropriately studied.
7. Currently pending: Amgen, the makers of anemia drugs Aranesp and Epogen, has been accused of handing extra profits to doctors who prescribe the drugs (by overfilling vials, then allowing doctors to charge insurance companies for drugs they got for free). Other accusations include misconduct involving claims of safety and efficacy, marketing, pricing and dosing of the drugs. Amgen has set aside $760 million to settle the suits.
6. 2011: Merck settles for $950 million to resolve fraudulent marketing allegations and safety claims related to Vioxx. Vioxx was pulled from the market in 2004, after it was shown to double the risk of heart attack and stroke. In addition to the $950 million, Merck paid hundreds of millions more to harmed patients and their families (Vioxx contributed to causing heart attacks in up to 140,000 people, half of which were fatal).
5. 2009: Eli Lilly pays $1.4 billion for promoting Zyprexa for off-label uses, often to children and the elderly, and not properly divulging side effect information. For instance, Zyprexa was marketed as a sleeping aid for the elderly because one of its side effects is sedation, even though the drug also increases the risk of death.
4. 2012: Abbott Laboratories settles for $1.5 billion for aggressively promoting their seizure drug Depakote for off-label use in elderly dementia patients, despite lacking evidence of safety or effectiveness (and a known increase of serious side effects, like anorexia, in the elderly).
3. Currently pending: Johnson & Johnson will pay anywhere from $1.5 to $2 billion for illegal marketing of Risperdal and other drugs. The company not only heavily marketed drugs to children and the elderly despite inadequate evidence of safety or efficacy, they also hid data about drugs' side effects.
2. 2009: Pfizer pays $2.3 billion for marketing fraud related to Bextra, Lyrica and other drugs. Charges included marketing drugs to doctors for uses for which they had not been approved and giving kickbacks to doctors and other health care professionals for prescribing their drugs. This was Pfizer's fourth settlement numbering in the multimillions in less than a decade.
1. 2012: GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) to pay $3 billion for illegal marketing of Paxil and Welbutrin and downplaying safety risks of Avandia, among other charges. The company hid data about drug risks, marketed drugs for unapproved uses, and paid doctors (or gave them lavish gifts like expensive vacations) for prescribing their drugs. One of the most high-profile accounts involved tv's Dr. Drew, who reportedly received $275,000 from GSK to promote Welbutrin to treat sexual dysfunction associated with depression even though it hasn't been proven effective for this purpose.
How Many of the Top 10 Most Prescribed Drugs Are Unnecessary?
IMS Health has recently released the top U.S. prescription drugs of 2011, and an editorial in ACS Chemical Neuroscience has analyzed some of the statistics.5 The most-used drugs in America are, primarily, used to treat conditions that can be better treated without drugs. Let's take a closer look:
Statin Cholesterol Drugs
Lipitor and Crestor, used to treat high cholesterol, came in at number 1 and 8 on the list, respectively. This class of drugs, used to lower cholesterol, has been linked to over 300 devastating side effects, including muscle pain and weakness, muscle atrophy, rhabdomyolysis, increased plaque deposits, increased cancer risk, immune system suppression, decreased liver function, CoQ10 depletion, diabetes and death.6
The fact that statin drugs cause side effects is well established, but very few people realize that not only is your total cholesterol level not a great indicator of your heart disease risk, but you could be getting told you have high cholesterol when your levels are actually perfectly normal for you. You can make sense of your cholesterol numbers by reading this article, and also get tips for keeping your levels in the healthy range here. To normalize your cholesterol level naturally, four primary strategies work well 99 percent of the time if properly implemented:
- Reduce fructose intake to less than 25 grams per day
- Regular exercise, especially Peak Fitness
- Eat a low-grain, low-sugar diet according as outlined in my nutrition plan
- Taking a high-quality, animal-based omega-3 supplement
Plavix, which is manufactured by Bristol-Myers Squibb and used to help prevent strokes and heart attacks, has serious side effects you many not be aware of. When combined with aspirin, the drug nearly doubled the death rate from heart disease among patients who had not had heart attacks but were at risk for them.7
Many medications commonly prescribed to heart disease patients can also be avoided, as in the case of heart disease, the healthy lifestyle strategies discussed here – strategies like proper food choices, stress reduction, exercise, and optimizing vitamin D – are not only effective as prevention, they're also useful for treatment.
Additionally, there is compelling evidence that grounding or earthing will thin your blood very effectively and provide the benefit that Plavix and these types of drugs provide with none of the dangerous side effects or costs. Grounding has been shown to be such a potent blood thinner that if a person is taking Coumadin, they need to adjust their dose lower under the guidance of a physician as the grounding will decrease the need for it.
Acid Reflux Drugs
Nexium came in at #3. If you have heartburn, acid reflux, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), peptic ulcer disease or any acid-related condition, chances are very high that you've been offered a prescription for a proton pump inhibitor (PPI) like Nexium.
But acid-reducing drugs are actually the opposite of what many people with acid reflux need, as heartburn and GERD are almost often caused by a LACK of stomach acid, rather than an overproduction thereof. Further, when you take PPIs, which significantly reduce the amount of acid in your stomach, it both impairs your ability to properly digest proteins in food and diminishes your stomach acid barrier – your primary defense mechanism for food-borne infections – thereby increasing your risk of food poisoning.
These drugs have also been linked to an increased risk of pneumonia, and result in an elevated risk of bone loss, likely by interfering with the absorption of minerals like calcium and magnesium. Acid-reducing medications also actually induce acid-related symptoms like heartburn and acid regurgitation once treatment is withdrawn. Because of this you have to wean yourself off them gradually or else you'll experience a severe rebound of your symptoms, As I explained in my acid reflux video below, while you wean yourself off these drugs (if you're already on one), you'll want to start implementing a lifestyle modification program that can eliminate this condition once and for all.
The key to addressing the underlying cause of the problem is to limit fructose to below 25 grams per day as this will tend to create a micro-environment that allows beneficial bacteria to thrive. Remember, sugar and fructose tend to act as fertilizer for pathogenic bacteria, fungi and yeast, so stay away from it. Additionally, it will be good to include some fermented foods, such as fermented vegetables, and a high-quality probiotic.
Antidepressants / Antipsychotics
Abilify, Seroquel and Cymbalta all made the top 10 list. Most of the atypical antipsychotics like Abilify and Seroquel were approved in the 1990's, at which time they were reserved for a very small minority of serious mental illnesses – primarily schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, diseases afflicting an estimated 3 percent of Americans. More recently, some atypical antipsychotics have also been approved for the treatment of severe depression. Shockingly, children as young as 18 months are now receiving antipsychotic drugs, despite the fact that the diseases they're designed to treat rarely develop before adolescence.
There has been a massive increase in off-label use of atypical antipsychotics, which are now being prescribed for ailments such as anxiety, insomnia, and behavioral problems in children.
Abilify (aripiprazole), for example, is a newer psychotropic medication, licensed for the treatment of bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, autism – and major depression when taken with antidepressants. i.e. it is used to augment the effects of the antidepressants – because, of course, antidepressants have also been found to be about as effective as a placebo, and sometimes less effective than a sugar pill... Abilify has upwards of 75 different side effects associated with it, including GERD, arthritis, impotence, yeast infections, thyroid problems and more.
As for the antidepressant Cymbalta, which also made the list, research has confirmed that antidepressant drugs are typically no more effective than sugar pills, and have little if any benefit to people with mild to moderate depression, but they can increase suicidal thoughts and tendencies, and violent behavior, especially in children, teens and young adults. Antidepressants have also been linked to diabetes and impaired immune function.
Unfortunately, since most of the treatment focus of depression and other mental conditions is on drugs, many safe and natural treatment options that DO work are being completely ignored – but for more information on this important and complex topic please read this article on antipsychotics in children, and watch the video below, which focuses on depression.
Download Interview Transcript
Advair and Singulair, two popular asthma drugs, also made the top 10 list. While these drugs may be justified when used acutely, they should only be used temporarily until the underlying problem is solved, as they, too, carry risks.
Advair, for example, contains the long-acting beta-agonist (LABA) salmeterol, which actually increases the risk of death from asthma problems! Singulair also has serious side effects, including suicidal thoughts and actions, depression, aggressive behavior, hallucinations, sleep walking, tremor and more. Like many chronic diseases, asthma can often be managed using natural strategies, such as optimizing vitamin D levels and increasing your intake of omega-3 fats.
Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA)
Humira, used for rheumatoid arthritis, rounds out the top 10. Humira belongs to a newer class of RA drugs, the "biologic" drugs, called TNF-alpha inhibitors, sold under the brand names Humira, Enbrel, and Remicade. While these drugs are aggressively promoted, there are still concerns about their safety. Not only are drugs like Humira made from genetically engineered hamster cells, and not only do they suppress your actual immune system, but they can lead to tuberculosis, lethal infections, melanoma, lymphoma and unusual cancers in children and teenagers. This is one class of drugs that I feel are simply too dangerous too use.
My revised and updated drug-free RA protocol based on Dr. Thomas Brown's RA treatment tends to provide a 60-90 percent improvement rate in most RA sufferers. Important aspects of the treatment protocol include dietary modifications, low-dose Naltrexone, optimizing your vitamin D levels, astaxanthin, beneficial bacteria (preferably in the form of fermented foods), and getting regular exercise, as discussed in the video below.
Are Drugs Really the Solution You're Searching For?
Most chronic diseases, including cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and obesity, are largely preventable, and sometimes treatable, with simple lifestyle changes and other holistic approaches. Even infectious diseases like the flu can often be warded off by a healthy way of life.
Imagine the lowered death toll, not to mention costs to the economy, if more people decided to take control of their health...
The added bonus to this is that the healthier you are, the less you will need to rely on conventional medical care such as medications, which is a leading cause of death. Please make this transition with wisdom or you can get yourself into serious trouble. Avoid stopping any medications you are currently taking until you are working with a knowledgeable natural health care practitioner who can help guide you, but remember that minimizing your use of drugs should be a goal if you want to achieve optimal health.
The first step in treating virtually any illness, and certainly any of the ones discussed above is to optimize your health through your diet and lifestyle. It took me over 30 years to compile my free Nutrition Plan for you. It is divided into three levels, beginner, intermediate and advanced, but it would be best to start at the beginning. I recently edited the entire document to include updates that we have learned that will help you and your family take control of your health.
Please review a copy today so you can start to reap the benefits and avoid taking these dangerous and typically unnecessary drugs.