Houston, We Have a Drug ProblemOct 31, 2021
A conversation about health…
A story about Joe and me having lunch in Ashland, Oregon…
I was having lunch with a friend of mine this week and we were enjoying some great conversation. Joe is a talented trainer and disciplined about his health habits. We were mostly talking “shop” about training, diet and other selfcare. At one point he shared his experience getting a physical exam – his wife insisted since he was now 52 he needed an annual exam.
While waiting in an exam room, a nurse entered to review his intake forms and take weight, blood pressure and other exams. She began with “It says here that you don’t smoke, drink or take any medications?”
“Not even over the counter medicine – non-prescription medications?”
“None,” said Joe.
Doubtful, the nurse continued, ran her exams and left.
When the doctor entered, he asked, “Joe, Do you really have no prescriptions you take?
“No, why?” asked Joe.
“Well, it’s just that it is normal at your age to be taking 5 prescriptions by now!”
Think about that for a moment and digest it –
“It’s just that it is normal at your age to be taking 5 prescriptions by now!”
Why does this doc believe this crazy idea?
Because that’s what he’s told. It’s how he’s been trained to view the world. And, that beief gets reinforced because that’s what he see in his practice. According to this doc’s observation and experience that’s how the world works.
On average, patients will regularly use one prescription medication for each decade of life.
That’s common knowledge because that’s what happens in the US.
A story about me in Honduras…
In March of 2010, my wife and I were celebrating our 30th aniversary on Roatan Island in Honduras. E’d had a wonderful time staying at a bungalow on the coast, walking on the beach, scuba diving and nights out for dinner outside with stars and ocean breezes.
But, now I was unconscious in the little health clinic on the island and the main nurse who’d been coordinating care told my wife she was “Sorry” because she felt I wasn’t coming back. I’d been unconscious for the last 18 hours and my blood pressure was near the bursting point.
Shortly afterward the clinic team started me on an antibiotic for meningitis as a last resort. And, I did come back over the next few hours.
The next morning I was released for our flight midday Sunday back home to Phioenix. I couldn’t get around on my own because I was hallucinating so badly. My wife had to prop me up and steer me.
I was clear enough by this time that I was perfectly clear that if I hadn’t been given that IV Cephalosporin just a few hours before I would now in that moment in time be dead.
And, then I started to put the picture together…I’d contracted Listeria meningitis.
With Listeria meningitis 50% of people die. Of the 50% that live, around 80% end up with a significant permanent disability and most people are out of work for 6 months – some never work again.
I could put this picture together for the very reason I’d had the IV antibiotic and was now taking it orally.
Thanks to my wife, Kathie, we got home at midnight and I tried to sleep through the head pain and hallucinations.
First thing Monday morning I called a neuro doc friend. He scripted more Cephalosporin and Amoxycillin. Then, I called a biochemist friend for advice on the nutritional support, called a chiropractor friend and got adjusted once a day, graphed my acupuncture meridians multiple times a day and treated with acupuncture needles and did chi gong and meditation multiple times a day.
And was able to work a full day the following Monday.
Residual effects – diminished visual pattern recognition.
Where would I have been on the standard track of post-infection care? Don’t want to think about it.
I am forever grateful for the focused and dedicated care I recieved from the nurses and doctor at that modest community health clinic on Roatan Island. They saved my life. And, the strengths of conventional medicine including antibiotics also saved my life.
Those are the strengths of prescription drugs – at least certain ones – because they are truly life-saving and curative.
Prescription drugs and a confusion of aims
I will fire a patient if they don’t take medication they actually need. It’s just that most people are taking medications they don’t need and they’re sick at least in part because of it.
Most drugs manage symptoms – they don’t heal; they don’t cure.
And, essentially every drug has side effects with a great many of them serious and even life threatening!
When I started in practice over 30 years ago, it was common for people in their 70s or 80s to take a drug or two. Usually a diuretic for some water retention or hypertension, a little thyroid for some energy or a “pain pill” for arthritis. Not so unreasonable or so bad.
Now it is incredibly common for patients to come in for their initial hstory and I have to get more paper to write down all the medications becasue theee are too many to fit on my form. Now patients often have 10, even 20 prescriptions!
They will give me the “shopping list” of prescriptions and tell me they don’t feel so good. Often my reply is “I’m surprised you could get here!”
Medicine as a cause of disease
Using multiple medications for managing symptoms of poor health is often a cause of disease!
It is estimated that prescription related drug deaths are around 125,000 annually in the US.1
Kidney dialysis and related treatment for end stage kidney disease used up 8% ($30 billion) of the 2010 Medicare budget.2 Why are most of the folks on dialysis there? Chronic hypertension and diabetes are the most common. Hidden in those illnesses is chronic and multiple drug use and kidney disease due to same associated with other diseases. Most of the incidences of the people suffering these diseases are being managed for their symptoms with drugs that incrementally making them sicker –
When some good counsel on diet and exercise and maybe some targeted nutrition to address genetic predisposition to certain illnesses could have headed off a pile of tragedies.
Solution for both type II diabetes and hypertension? Less junk, more veggies and move! A couple of months of getting serious about taking care of that can transform people. It’s rarely complicated and the proof is transparent and easy to measure/prove.
Why does this continue? Docs and nurses are good people. They just want to help – to make a difference. They’re doing what they believe is right.
Who convinced them?
The pharmaceutical industry is designed primarily for profit. And, the drug business has gamed the system from medical school, to research and to hospitals and clinics to make drugs the “only option.”3 Why does the high end of normal for cholesterol and blood pressure keep going down? Follow the money – it makes for more long-term customers for BP and diabetes drugs.
Why? There’s way more money to be made off the prescription pad than from counselling and coaching a patient to practice selfcare. The drug business is doing great!
However, in my experience, most medication is a poor excuse for good doctoring.
And back to Joe and me having lunch…
Joe and I had some more conversation about selfcare and lifelong health.
For me, I had antibiotics when I had my wisdom teeth removed at 17 and the antibiotics for meningitis in 2010. Full disclosure – I did use Benadryl for a week around 2000 during a bad bout of Spring hay fever. It didn’t work so I had to focus on the solution and some selfcare for the actual problem solved it after a few weeks. Other than that? No medications – over the counter or prescription.
And, at 61, I’m doing pretty good. No aches or pains, headaches or digestive problems. Sleep good. Blood pressure good. Labs good. I’m not as fit as I’d like, but nothing that holds me up. A couple of days a week I like to put on a 30lb pack and hike up the steep trails around Ashland.
In a couple of days I’ll be ski mountaineering on Mt. Shasta.
I certainly don’t feel Im missing anything or that I have a prescription drug deficiency. I’d say I’m all the healthier without any of it!
These outcomes aren’t random. They are reproducible. There are things I don’t know, but I know this because I’ve seen the same outcomes in thousands of people over the years. We can live in the way that makes the best version of ourselves.
1 Starfield B, 2000, Medical Errors – A Leading Cause of Death, JAMA Vol 284, No 4.
3 “The Truth About the Drug Companies: How They Deceive Us and What to Do About It”, Marcia Angela, MD, past editor in chief of The New England Journal of Medicine
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