You Can Take a Pill for That

Quick:  What are the three leading causes of death in the US?

Most people can name the first two but few would identify the third. Heart disease accounts for 25% of all deaths and cancer takes another 23%, together comprising nearly half of all deaths.  (Source) The third cause of death accounts for nearly 10% and few would name it.   That killer -- at 225,000 deaths per year -- is medical error.  (Source)  That includes unnecessary surgeries and infections contracted in hospitals.  But 106,000 of those were from adverse reactions to properly administered prescription drugs.  Another 7,000 are from improperly administered drugs in hospitals.  Add in another 20,000 from "drug poisoning" aka overdoses, predominantly of prescription (not illegal) drugs. (Source

And who is taking all of these prescription drugs?  The chart below from the CDC NHANES study covers ongoing, not episodic, prescription drug use.

Age Group
 Taking 1 or more prescription drug
 Taking 3 or more prescription drugs
 Taking 5 or more prescription drugs
Most commonly used drugs 
(in order)
All Males

statins; pain meds
All Females

anti-depressants; statins; pain meds
Under 12
bronchodilators; antihistamines; penicillins
stimulants (for ADHD); bronchodilators; antidepressants
anti-depressants; pain meds; statins
60 and older
statins; beta blockers; diuretics
All Americans
statins; pain meds; anti-depressants
 (Source and Source)
So what?  Other than 100,000 plus of us dying each year from taking the pills our doctors prescribe for us, there are other impacts on our national psyche, perhaps some explanation for the current tone of public discourse?

Psychological side effects of common drugs
Statins:  intelligence loss, memory loss, delirium, depression, irritability, fatigue, violence and suicide (45% of those over age 60 now take statins)
Anti-depressants: sleeplessness, nervousness, tension, fatigue, depression, suicide
Beta Blockers: fatigue, loss of energy, slower brain function, nightmares, dizziness (interestingly, beta blockers also increase triglycerides, increasing prescriptions for statins)
Pain Medications: addiction, drowsiness, dizziness, confusion, anxiety
Stimulants for ADHD: nervousness, sleeplessness
Americans now spend $300 BILLION each year on prescription drugs.  That's $1000 for every child and adult in the nation.  Since the explosion of "direct to consumer" drug advertising, our chemical ingestion has exploded.  And since the 2003 unfunded Medicare drug expansion, 10% of Medicare spending is now for prescription drugs -- with no price controls. 

A recent Medford Mail Tribune article discussed payments directly to doctors from pharmaceutical companies and named the primary abusers locally.  Pfizer alone has given $260 million to doctors nationally since 2009.  In 2008, 74% of all doctor visits nationally resulted in doctors writing prescriptions. We are a chemically induced people.

I come from a long line of pharmacists on both sides of my family.  The problem is not pharmacists or doctors.  It's bigger than that.  We as patients are responsible too.   I'm not a fan of dietary supplements or much that falls under the category of alternative medicine.  But I do believe that a good deal more caution in introducing chemicals into our bodies is in order. 

I can't claim to be a medical doctor or a chemist.  But as a social scientist, somehow the side effects listed above help me to understand how our electorate behaves.  If you subtract out children, roughly 2/3 of voters are continuously medicated.  They're irritable, slower on the uptake, exhausted, anxious and confused.  I give you the 112th Congress and the current slate of presidential candidates.