The harm resulting from the adverse effects of drugs, while receiving more and more attention, has been growing at an alarming rate over the past decade. A key reason for this is that people ingesting drugs do not fully understand the harm that these drugs may do to their body. While much more attention is on the important fight against illegal drugs, the harm caused by adverse drug reactions (ADRs) to legal drugs, both prescription and over-the-counter, is in fact much greater. A systematic review of the effects of adverse drug reactions showed that 7% of all hospital admissions were the result of harm done by adverse reactions to prescription and over-the-counter drugs. Some estimates have shown that there are over 100,000 deaths related to ADRs in the U.S. per year.
The adverse effects of drugs come from two sources. The first is the direct harm the drug causes to your body. The second is the harm done to your body by ignoring the cause of the problem that the drug is treating. The vast majority of drug use is to treat the effects of unhealthy lifestyle choices. While they are necessary at times, as in acute injury and crisis, the use of drugs as a lifestyle is a major factor in this country’s health crisis. Use the best practices in the Bonfire Program to get healthy and keep yourself healthy, to keep you out of harm’s way.
Let’s look at the various types of adverse effects caused by drugs:
The most commonly used and most overlooked harm from drugs is the use of over-the-counter medications (OTC). The most commonly used OTC drugs are known as NSAIDs, the painkillers and anti-inflammatory drugs that include aspirin, Tylenol, ibuprofen, etc. While millions of Americans use these drugs every year, some with regularity, few people realize the harmful effects they have.
In fact, they have so many harmful effects that the American Geriatrics Society, as described in this NY Times article, says these drugs “should be considered ‘rarely’ in the population of frail elderly people, and used ‘with extreme caution’ and then only in ‘highly selected individuals.’”
Acetominophen, the ingredient found in Tylenol and other common over-the-counter drugs, is the number one cause of acute liver failure. Even twice the dosage on the package taken for regular intervals has been found to cause severe liver damage, according to the journal, Hepatology. People with pre-existing liver issues can be harmed by even the recommended dosage for other people. These toxicity issues have researchers calling for an end to over-the-counter status for acetaminophen.
Acid reflux medication harms your body’s ability to absorb minerals such as calcium, something that was first noticed when regular users of acid reflux medications experienced greater fracture rates than others. An estimated one third of migraine headaches are caused by regular usage of painkillers. Antibiotics usage results in 20% of hospitalizations stemming from adverse drug reactions, with the highest incidence being children under the age of five.
The list of major harm done by prescription drugs is a lengthy one. The COX-2 inhibitors, a class of pain killers touted as safer than earlier medications, were found to create cardiovascular complications such as heart attack and stroke. As a result, in 2004 Vioxx was pulled from the market, having already been taken by 84 million people.
This story has repeated over and over again over the past few decades. Just two years earlier, a Woman’s Health Initiative Study was halted due to concerns regarding female Hormone Replacement Therapy, or HRT. HRT was prescribed for post-menopausal symptoms and has been implicated in large numbers of cases of breast cancer.
Multiple reports have recently detailed that drugs given to treat osteoporosis actually cause problems with bones. Not only do they create osteonecrosis of the jaw (bone death), they promote femur fractures in some people. Now reports have drugs showing they are causing the very problems they are attempting to prevent.
Fines and Penalties
While the majority of doctors prescribing drugs have their patients’ best interests at heart, their practice habits are influenced by pharmaceutical companies. Giant pharmaceutical companies, on the other hand, have had their motives questioned again and again. Despite massive fines, such as drug-maker AstraZeneca’s $520 million settlement and Pfizer’s (producer of Lipitor) $2.3 billion fine with the Justice Department, safety appears to still take a back seat to profits. Ten percent of approved drugs are subsequently taken off the market, or have additional safety labels applied to them, after they have been promoted heavily to medical doctors and the public.
To make matters worse, it becomes impossible to predict what the outcome will be when multiple medications are given to a single individual. Scientific trials are performed with specific age groups, being tested for safety and efficacy of a single treatment. However, drugs are not typically given in isolation. The average senior citizen is on seven pharmaceutical drugs. This type of poly-pharmacy creates the potential for drug interactions where the presence of more than one type of drug creates unpredictable adverse effects. And again, over-the-counter medications can interact with prescribed drugs to create toxicity and injury.
There has been a growing outcry from the public and health care professionals over this level of iatrogenic injury. Even members of the medical profession have created a growing niche criticizing the focus on drugs, rather than health. Here is an ever-growing list of publications brought about by the people involved, exposing the current practices of the medical profession.
- Dr. Marcia Angell, former editor of The New England Journal of Medicine, and her book, The Truth About the Drug Companies: How They Deceive Us and What To Do About It
- Dr. John Abraham, distinguished practice medical doctor from Hamilton, MA, and his bestseller Overdosed America
- Peter Rost, former Marketing Vice President of Pfizer, and his book, The Whistleblower: Confessions of a Healthcare Hitman
- Jerome P. Kassirer, former Editor-In-Chief of the New England Journal of Medicine and his book, On The Take: How Medicine’s Complicity With Big Business Can Endanger Your Health
- Alison Bass, an investigative journalist for the Boston Globe, and her book,Side Effects: A Prosecutor, a Whistleblower and a Best Selling Anti-depressant on Trial
- Melody Peterson, former reporter for the New York Times and her book, Our Daily Meds: How the Pharmaceutical Companies Transformed Themselves Into Slick Marketing Machines and Hooked the Nation on Prescription Drugs
- Shannon Brownlee, distinguished journalist and her book, Overtreated: Why Too Much Medicine is Making Us Sicker and Poorer
- Greg Critser, science and medical journalist and his book, Generation Rx: How Prescription Drugs Are Altering American Lives, Minds and Bodies
- J. Douglas Bremner, established physician and professor of radiology and psychiatry and his book, Before You Take That Pill: Why The Pharmaceutical Industry May Be Bad For Your Health
- Byron J. Richards, celebrated wellness physician and his book, Fight For Your Health: Exposing the FDA’s Betrayal of America
- Fran Hawthorne, editor and writer and her book, Inside the FDA: Business and Politics Behind The Drugs We Take and the Food We Eat