MAN'S most basic desire is to live. Hence, he has always been willing to pay well anyone who can help him to live longer or free him from suffering. Ancient books abound with remedies for sickness, some beneficial, others downright dangerous. But never has medicine flourished so much as in our 20th century.
MAN'S most basic desire is to live. Hence, he has always been willing to pay well anyone who can help him to live longer or free him from suffering.
Ancient books abound with remedies for sickness, some beneficial, others downright dangerous. But never has medicine flourished so much as in our 20th century. In addition to continuing developments of new medical techniques, a large number of drugs have been discovered. In a recent year, some 7,200 drugs and drug combinations were on the market.
On the other hand, some feel that the wealthier, more advanced countries have become the most over-medicated society in history. An obvious factor in the world drug situation is the enormous amount of money involved. In Australia alone, with a mere 14 million inhabitants, over $A300 million is being spent annually on medical drugs. Could it be that natural interest in health on the part of millions is being exploited by drug manufacturers
Drugstores (in some places called "chemist shops"), supermarkets and many small stores stock drugs that can be bought without a doctor's prescription. To encourage buying more of these, drug companies sponsor aggressive, highly sophisticated advertising campaigns through newspapers, magazines, billboards, radio and television. Advertising experts research the needs, attitudes and tastes of the "target audience"--persons who might use their specific medicine--and prepare a suitable campaign. Clever slogans, colorful advertisements and eye-catching merchandising in a variety of media encourage you to buy.
Many subtle methods are used to attract your attention.
A medicine may be labeled "new" when in reality it is only a different combination of old drugs. A company may claim that their product is special because it has "XYZ," whereas "XYZ" is only a trade name for a common constituent. Some will amplify small, often insignificant differences between their products and those of a competitor. Reference may be made to laboratory tests or to doctors' recommendations, or advertisements may be presented by a person dressed as a medical professional.
The immense popularity of pain-killing drugs is one result of massive and incessant advertising. People are encouraged to view taking them as normal, an aid in solving life's little problems. An efficient sales organization has made them available virtually everywhere.
Many doctors say that aspirin (including soluble aspirin) is a comparatively safe and effective analgesic. However, even simple headache preparations containing aspirin plus another substance, such as phenacetin, can be very harmful, causing serious kidney damage. Hence, many medical organizations have been actively campaigning to remove this type of medication from its present easy accessibility. Some authorities have condemned misleading advertising that says analgesics are safe, will relax, relieve tension, sedate or stimulate.
So when you purchase over-the-counter medicine, be sure first to consider carefully whether you really need it. Keep in mind that no drug is completely safe. The idea that for every minor complaint there is a remedy at the chemist shop may suit the manufacturer, but may not be in your best interests. Remember, too, that these medicines usually relieve only symptoms of an illness, not the cause.
Promotion of "Prescription-Only" Drugs
Because the doctor is the only person who can authorize the obtaining of "prescription-only" drugs, in handling these he becomes the middleman between you and the manufacturer. Doctors, being human, are susceptible to advertising techniques. Hence, they receive an abundance of glossy, eye-catching pharmaceutical advertising literature, skillfully prepared to encourage the doctor to prescribe a particular drug in as wide a field of illnesses as possible.
Of every dollar that Australian pharmaceutical companies spend, 20 cents is used on promotion, 42 percent of that on traveling representatives, whose presentations are tailored to a doctor's needs. Their interview might conclude by leaving a pad or a pen endorsed with the name of the drug they wish the doctor to prescribe.
Drug manufacturers insist that the process of informing doctors is of utmost importance. Certainly, increasing a doctor's awareness of a new drug can be valuable. However, much promotion seems aimed at persuading a doctor that a new formulation of an old drug is superior to existing products, and the creating of incentive for that company's drugs to be more widely prescribed. Doctors have criticized some advertising as being misleading by giving one-sided views and by downplaying adverse side effects of their drugs.
In addition, the drug industry produces expensive audiovisual material, supports conferences and produces medical journals, providing them free to the doctor. While good can come from all of these, at the same time there is a continual underlying promotional effort.
An unfortunate aspect of the situation is that many doctors depend on manufacturers' advertising, along with limited contact with colleagues, for their knowledge of the uses and side effects of many drugs now available. Not surprisingly, then, the Australian "Buchanan" parliamentary report noted: "There is significant and avoidable over-prescribing, and this contributes to the high cost of the [national health] scheme and to drug-induced disease, as well as reducing the future effectiveness of valuable drugs."
The position of the doctor, however, is just one of many problems related to medical overuse of drugs. Much of the responsibility for this situation rests on the patient.
The Doctor's Dilemma
One of the biggest problems facing doctors is the average patient's avid desire to take medicines. Whereas possibly only rest, time and reasonable care are needed for recovery from an illness, many patients feel that a visit to the doctor without receiving a prescription is a waste of time and money. With an overcrowded waiting room, your doctor may not be inclined to accept the time-consuming and possibly uphill task of convincing you that medicine is not needed. Under pressure from the patient and the drug company, he may find it easier simply to write a prescription.
Drug companies claim that they too are in a difficult position. Ever since the "Thalidomide disaster" resulted in 8,000 babies being born tragically deformed, governments have demanded increasingly stringent tests before a new drug can be marketed. Much expense is involved in research, development and registration of a new drug. Not all new drugs are commercially successful. Even successful ones can be patented for only a limited time. Sometimes a superior drug may be discovered a short time later. Hence, drug companies feel that they must quickly get their drugs used as widely as possible.
What Can You Do to Protect Yourself
How can you avoid being exploited by those who want you to buy and use more medicines? First of all, recognize that the human body is marvelously designed to cure itself of many ills. As the Australian Prescriber acknowledged: "While drugs are important in the management of many conditions, the problems of many patients are best managed by non-drug therapy. The best treatment does not always consist of pills or medicine." Giving the body a good rest is often far more beneficial than pumping it with drugs and forcing it to keep going. Sometimes certain foods or natural remedies can be helpful.
Rather than pressuring your doctor to write a prescription, help him to determine whether drug therapy is really needed in the case at hand. If it is, find out what may be the side effects or possible complications of the treatment. Conscientious doctors will gladly provide this information. Could these outweigh the benefits? How large a dose is really needed, and for how long?
Realizing that taking mood-affecting drugs is no substitute for getting to the root of emotional problems can be a great safeguard. If you find life hard to cope with, a frank examination of your way of life and the courage to make needed changes may be all that is necessary.
If it seems essential for you to take drugs, follow closely the directions given by the doctor. Avoid taking a number of different drugs at the same time without medical supervision. Note associated warnings such as avoiding alcohol or not driving while using medicine.
Certainly drugs have saved millions of lives. They have shortened periods of illness and helped to remove much fear of diseases. On the other hand, many have unsuspectingly fallen victim to unnecessary medication, dependence on drugs and to drug-induced diseases. But if drugs are treated with the respect and understanding that they deserve, a person is far less likely to become a victim of drug exploitation.
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