For the first time, it appears that more than half of all insured Americans are taking prescription medicines regularly for chronic health problems. The most widely used drugs are those to lower high blood pressure and cholesterol — problems often linked to heart disease, obesity and diabetes. The numbers were gathered last year by Medco Health Solutions Inc., which manages prescription benefits for about one in five Americans.
Experts say the data reflect not just worsening public health but better medicines for chronic conditions and more aggressive treatment by doctors. For example, more people are now taking blood pressure and cholesterol-lowering medicines because they need them, said Dr. Daniel W. Jones, president of the American Heart Association. In addition, there is the pharmaceutical industry's relentless advertising. With those factors unlikely to change, doctors say the proportion of Americans on chronic medications can only grow. "Unless we do things to change the way we're managing health in this country ... things will get worse instead of getting better," predicted Jones, a heart specialist and dean of the University of Mississippi's medical school.
Americans buy much more medicine per person than any other country. Medco's data show that last year, 51 percent of American children and adults were taking one or more prescription drugs for a chronic condition, up from 50 percent the previous four years and 47 percent in 2001. Most of the drugs are taken daily, although some are needed less often. The company examined prescription records from 2001 to 2007 of a representative sample of 2.5 million customers, from newborns to the elderly. Medication use for chronic problems was seen in all demographic groups: • Almost two-thirds of women 20 and older. • One in four children and teenagers. • 52 percent of adult men. • Three out of four people 65 or older. Among seniors, 28 percent of women and nearly 22 percent of men take five or more medicines regularly.
The biggest jump in use of chronic medications was in the 20- to 44-year-old age group — adults in the prime of life — where it rose 20 percent over the six years. That was mainly due to more use of drugs for depression, diabetes, asthma, attention-deficit disorder and seizures. Antidepressant use in particular jumped among teens and working-age women.
Bonnie - I cannot think of a better study to indict the current state of public health in the United States. The vicious circle involves five main players:
- Big Pharma - their reach dominates almost every aspect of our culture; with the new Medicare/Medicaid law, there reach will be ever reaching; multimedia advertising assures that drugs stay in our minds incessantly.
- Government - it is no secret of how linked government and Big Pharma are. Until this relationship changes, these numbers will only increase.
- The Patient - most of us look for the quick-fix and do not have the time or meddle to get to the root of the cause. Patients often pressure their doctors to take medications that they have seen or read about. We all need to take a long, hard look at ourselves and ask the question, "Do we want to be on these medications for our entire lives, just mask the symptoms? Or, should we discover what is really ailing us and implement the lifestyle changes to cure it?"
- Doctors - the current health care system does not allow doctors to give the time needed to get to the root of the cause. Their handouts from and cozy relationships with Big Pharma have taken some luster off their reputation
- Researchers - they are culpable as well for handouts and cozy relationships with Big Pharma. Allowing Big Pharma to fund studies for their own drugs, allowing Big Pharma to ghostwrite research to improve study results, getting kickbacks for appearances, are some of the reasons why research cannot be trusted until the current system is corrected.