IMS Health just released their annual report of American prescription drug use, revealing what’s hiding in America’s pillbox: details that are part good, part bad..and part ugly, too. The pills themselves don’t shed light on any big secrets: Most prescriptions treat high blood pressure, bacterial infections, obesity, and acid reflux. Oh, and did we mention high blood pressure? The bad news is that five of the most-used drugs are prescribed to treat obesity-related conditions — mostly high blood pressure — something that, in many cases, could be prevented or treated by eating a healthy diet and exercising. (But then, we could argue that almost every drug on the list is used to treat a preventable condition.) So where’s the bright side? While the fact remains that many of us are hooked on prescription drugs, we’re starting to slow down our habit. The increase in drug spending and the total use by volume of oral or nasal drugs increased by far less than it has in recent years, giving hope that maybe we’ll start to wake up from our drug-induced haze.
The report’s authors interpreted the slowed growth of the drug industry as a consequence of the economy — according to them, high unemployment rates and lack of health insurance is what’s keeping us from munching on more prescription drugs. But even if they’re right (or if you’re skeptical that a decrease in the increase of drug use is really very good news at all), we think there’s some hope that, while more of us are having to make do without expensive drugs, we might just learn to rely on more sustainable, holistic ways of treating (and preventing) our problems. Being unable to pay for the doctor — while undesirable, to say the least — could just be the shove that turns preventative medicine (like healthy eating, activity, and avoiding high-risk lifestyles) into a higher priority.
The list of prescription drugs that millions of Americans consume is overwhelmed with drugs that treat things like acid reflux, high blood pressure, and pre-diabetes; all things that, for many people, can be resolved through eating a healthier diet and exercising:
1. Hydrocodone with acetaminophen (Vicodin) — Used to treat pain.
2. Simvastatin (Zocor) — Treats high blood pressure.
3. Lisinopril (Prinivil) — More high blood pressure.
4. Levothyroxine sodium (Synthroid) — Treats hypothyroidism.
5. Amlodipine besylate (Norvasc) — Treats high blood pressure.
6. Omeprazole (Prilosec) — Mitigates acid reflux.
7. Azithromycin (Zithromax) — Antibiotic.
8. Amoxicillin (Amoxil) — Antibiotic.
9. Metformin HCL (Glucophage) — Anti-diabetic drugs administered to people who are at high risk for diabetes.
10. Hydrochlorothiazide (HydroDIURIL) — High blood pressure.
Of course, antibiotics, Vicodin, and some cases of every disease are caused by things out of our immediate control, but for the most part, these drugs are used to treat preventable disease.
I’ve written before about how functional medicine could work well for the uninsured, but even if you are insured, we think it’s worth exploring diet and lifestyle changes before going on a regimen of pills. Even if you are insured, your copays add up, and while it’s not always cheap to choose sushi and kale over burgers and fries, the latter option comes with the hidden price of all those prescription drugs. While many Americans are still being sucked into the cycle of cheap food and expensive drugs, we hope that if there’s any good to come of our dysfunctional health care system and messed up factory-farmed food, it’s that more Americans will start to break those patterns.