The true cost of prescription drugs
Americans spend about $1200 a year on prescription drugs, a number that is too damn high according to a study done by the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development. (1) This is more than any other country in the world. But is this number just a reflection of high prices?
History — and more importantly — research tells us it’s only part of the reason, with poor health accounting for a large portion of our high expenditure. There are certainly unavoidables in the drug department — unforeseen illnesses or conditions not only warrant but necessitate medication, but in a country where drugs cost more and insurance is rising, we can’t afford to pay the price of poor health choices.
First, the problem with the drugs themselves
Due to high costs, patients skip daily prescription administration nearly 20% of the time. On top of that, drug prices are being raised by companies by on average 9.5% a year, 7% higher than inflation, and they are doing so because they can, further increasing the cost of health insurance. (1)
And don’t fall for the lie like I did that we Americans pay more because of research and development — R&D is only 17% of total expenditures for most drug companies. (2) A lack of competition and the (poor) regulatory environment in the U.S. allow “for price increases much higher than in other countries.”
Why else should you be mindful?
Of the 2,444 doctors in a Medicare prescribing database, almost 37 percent received industry payments. This is not to demonize healthcare or modern western medicine… it is merely a statistic displaying financial incentives for doctors (who also need to earn a living) to prescribe name brand, more expensive drugs. Drugs absolutely have a role in our health. The point is to ask about alternatives, prices, etc. (2)
YOU have a job to educate yourself as well, and not simply rely on one authority figure.
Look for other recommendations and attack problem areas from multiple angles.
Additionally, there may be health issues when stacking multiple drugs, all the more incentive to get off those that aren’t necessary. Many people who take one medication often find themselves taking others. One for a miscellaneous allergy, one for hypertension, and perhaps a sleep aide. This isn’t all so unfamiliar. But, there is synergism we don’t yet understand.
For instance: there’s been bad news about the painkiller rofecoxib (Vioxx), the diabetes drug rosiglitazone (Avandia), and, most recently, the cholesterol-lowering combination of ezetimibe and simvastatin (Vytorin). Problems with hormone therapy and antidepressants have also been bannered in headlines.
Also, an example by OB-GYN, Marcelle Pick; “Some combinations we already know are dangerous. For example, taking warfarin (a blood thinner) and simvastatin (a cholesterol drug) can increase the risks of bleeding problems and the blood pressure drugs known as ACE inhibitors not only relax blood vessels to decrease pressure but constrict pupils, stimulate digestive secretions, and constrict the bronchi in the lungs (which can cause a cough).(2)
There is so much unknown, and do you want to knowingly tamper with it? As an aside, even for those who are consistent with their prohibitive medication, things don’t work out. Take for example a study done on lifestyle changes vs metformin. It randomly assigned people to take metformin (Glucophage) OR to make lifestyle changes that included a goal of weight loss (7% of body weight) and two and a half hours of exercise a week…
Nearly twice as many people in the metformin group wound up with diabetes compared with those in the lifestyle group.(3)
We obviously don’t lack for options. Though I speak with the repetition of an actor doing press, plenty of research shows that exercise, diet, and other lifestyle changes are effective weapons against many chronic diseases, and often more so than the leading medication.
Your diet and exercise habits are the two most important devices in altering your physical livelihood.
If you’re on medication, don’t take this as medical advice to stop taking your current medication. This is far from that. The cost of not taking them is clear based on work done by the Center for Disease control (CDC): non-adherence causes 30 to 50 percent of chronic disease treatment failures and 125,000 deaths per year in this country.
That’s a staggering amount, but it also doesn’t mean you shouldn’t work closely to try get off a medication if you can. Many ailments are preventable with proper diet and nutrition. It’s best to seek out information beyond just your primary care physician, as most doctors today don’t learn enough about nutrition. Hell, they learn much more about pharmacology than they do food.
What to do moving forward?
Be mindful. There are layers to the associated costs of healthcare, and this isn’t new information. Have someone trustworthy to depend on when it comes to making life-altering decisions, which is often what taking a new medication can turn out to be. Don’t doubt the power of picking up a weight and some leafy greens.
1) Harvard Health Publishing. “Alternatives to Taking Pills.” Harvard Health, www.health.harvard.edu/newsletter_article/Full-text-of-Health-Letter-article-about-alternatives-to-taking-pills.
2) Pick, Marcelle, and N.p. “Are Prescription Drugs Making Us Any Healthier?” HuffPost, HuffPost, 7 Oct. 2012, www.huffpost.com/entry/prescriptions-health_b_1746525.
3) Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. “Why You Need to Take Your Medications as Prescribed or Instructed.” U.S. Food and Drug Administration, FDA, 16 Feb. 2016, www.fda.gov/drugs/special-features/why-you-need-take-your-medications-prescribed-or-instructed.
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