A Tough Pill to Swallow

toughpill-1[originally published in KCN, January 1999]

The newspapers, television, and radio remind us every now and again about the leading causes of death in our society.  So much in fact, that it is pretty much common knowledge that the number one killer in the United States is…you guessed it, heart disease.  Number two and three might take a little more head scratching, but if cancer and stroke come to mind, you’d be correct.  But what about number four?  Nobody ever talks about number FOUR. After all, there’s less glamour with fourth place.  Well if you’re busy racking your brain for an answer, it’s not chronic obstructive lung disease, and it’s not accidents.  If you’re guessing pneumonia, diabetes, HIV/AIDS, or even suicide, you’d be wrong too.  The fact is, according to a study recently published in the Journal of the American Medial Association, adverse reactions to prescription drugs among hospitalized patients rings in at number four.  Shocking isn’t it?  Taking approximately 106,000 lives each year, you’d think more people would be aware of this unfortunate problem.  What’s even more shocking, is that the study only took into account prescription drugs that were administered properly.  This means cases of overdosing, misreading or disregarding warning labels, self-medicating, and doctor’s mistakes, were not counted!  I can only imagine what the ranking would be if they were.

toughpill-2Like it or not, the findings of this study underscore a very important point:  prescription medications [and over-the-counter medications for that matter] are powerful substances and should be respected as such and never taken lightly.  Although these medications offer miraculous benefits for many, many people, it is obvious that for some, they do not.  While 106,000 people will die each year from correctly taking their prescription medication, more than 2,000,000 will suffer serious side effects.  To bring these numbers closer to home, imagine just under 1/2 of the population of Kitsap County being wiped-out each year, and about 1/2 of the population of Washington state suffering serious, disabling, and often permanent, side effects.  It makes you think doesn’t it?

Now, am I saying to stop taking your prescription drugs?  No, absolutely not!  Prescription medications play a vital role in many people’s lives.  While some people  need them to manage debilitating diseases, others need them to literally stay alive.   However,  some may be in a situation where the taking of a prescription drug may be just one of the many options for treating their particular condition or symptom.  Talking with your doctor and doing a little research on your own can help you with your discovery and recovery.

As a doctor, whose philosophy it is to find and treat the cause of problems (not the symptoms), I’m curious.  Why is it that as a society, we rely so heavily on the miraculous cures behind a pill?  Is it  the remote-control, microwave-in-30-seconds, ATM “convenience attitudes” that we’ve created?  Or perhaps it’s the “this for that” disease model that the medical and pharmaceutical companies have constructed and pelt us with everyday in magazines and television ads.

It’s interesting, if you study the top three causes of death:  heart disease, cancer, and stroke, you’ll note they are, more often than not, avoidable!  Ironically, instead of attacking these problems at their core through lifestyle and dietary modifications, we chase the very conditions we have created with another leading killer — prescription drugs.  So when we look at the leading causes of death in our society, we must realize that what we are looking at is not an unfortunate listing of innocent victims, but a grim reflection of the lives we are choosing to lead.

Like fighting fires, we often take a REACTIVE approach to our health — versus the "Smokey the Bear" PROACTIVE approach.

Like fighting fires, we often take a REACTIVE approach to our health — versus the

Unfortunately, as a society we tend to have a rather REACTIVE reflex towards health.  It’s unfortunate because it’s killing us.  “If you’re sick, take this.”  “If you’re in pain take that.”  It all follows the disease model of health that the medical system has indoctrinated us into.  Instead, we need to seriously begin thinking about changing our paradigm into a PROACTIVE stance with our health.  Why not look for ways to bolster our immune systems so we won’t get sick as often?  Why not find the causes of our aches and pains so we can address them rather than cover them up?

As we kick off this new year, commit to making health a number one priority in your life.  Most of us already know what we need to do.  Whether it’s snubbing that smoking habit, picking up on the exercise, or tossing out the french fries, now’s the time to take action.  Can’t do it all on your own?  You owe it to yourself to get some assistance.  Consulting a chiropractor, naturopath, dietitian, or personal trainer is a good start.  At the very least, a visit to your local library might give you the information you need to get  on the right track.

Simple lifestyle and dietary changes now, as they say, can add years to your life and life to your years.  It’s time to reclaim your health, before it becomes a statistic.


Sources used for this article:
Kalb.  When drugs do harm.  Newsweek.  April 27, 1998.
Kent.  Research on Purpose:  America’s real drug problem.  The Chiropractic Journal. 12(10). July 1998.
Lazarou and Pomeranz.  Incidence of adverse drug reactions in hospitalized patients.  JAMA 279(15). April 15, 1998.
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