By Alexandra Smith
Sometimes the side effects of medicine can be worse than the condition the medicine is treating. I know this personally because in July 2012, I was diagnosed with a helicobacter pylori infection. According to webmd.com, H. pylori is a bacteria that causes abdominal pain, bloating, vomiting, and can lead to stomach ulcers. H. pylori infections are common in developing countries, and I have no idea how I contracted the infection.
My doctor prescribed some serious medicine to heal my stomach. I took 126 pills within two weeks. The medicine prescribed to me was called Prevpac, and had some unpleasant side effects including diarrhea, headache, nausea, vomiting, and abnormal taste. I can honestly say that the side effects of the medicine I took were a lot worse than the H. pylori infection itself.
Why do medical professionals prescribe medicines that make patients feel worse than the original condition for which they seek treatment?
According to a March 2011 article on nytimes.com, psychiatrist Dr. Levin no longer provides talk therapy, a form of psychiatry that dominated the profession for decades. Instead, “he prescribes medication, usually after a brief consultation with each patient.” The author of the article claims that Dr. Levin sent the man away with “a personal crisis unexplored and unresolved.” Are prescription drugs really the only answer to all medical problems?
Dr. Claire McCarthy argued in an April 2013 huffingtonpost.com article that medicine isn’t always the best answer. Dr. McCarthy mentioned that the number of kids ages 4 to 17 who have been diagnosed with ADHD has gone up 41 percent, and that it is “scary – especially when two-thirds of the people with this diagnosis get a medication for it.” Dr. McCarthy also mentioned that there are techniques that parents, teachers, and children can learn that would “not only be safe and effective – but would work for the rest of their lives.”
Many prescription drugs are also alarmingly expensive. According to an April 2008 article on nytimes.com, patients are no longer paying a fixed amount of money, like $10, $20, or $30 for prescription drugs. Instead, insurers are “charging patients a percentage of the cost of certain high-priced drugs, usually 20 to 33 percent, which can amount to thousands of dollars a month.” A June 2013 article on dailyfinance.com stated that “the prescription-drug market currently generates a whopping $950 billion in annual sales, and that figure is likely to grow to $1.2 trillion by 2016.”
Prescription drugs are also proving to be dangerous. A June 2008 article on businessweek.com reported that painkillers such as Vicodin and Oxycotin “are more likely to cause a fatal overdose than heroin or cocaine.” In Feb. 2008, nytimes.com reported that legal prescription drugs like oxycodone and other opioids were “responsible for 15,000 deaths in 2008, compared with 4,000 deaths in 1999.”
It’s understandable that in some cases drugs are absolutely necessary. I know that my H. pylori infection was only treatable through strong prescription drugs. An Aug. 2013 article on bangordailynews.com reported that Meredith Diaz, a 35-year-old mother of three, suffers from lupus, an inflammatory disease that causes joint problems and bone loss. Diaz must take prescription drugs every day to stay alive.
Many people are now turning to food as their medicine. According to a Feb. 2013 article on nytimes.com, “about 30 percent of heart attacks, strokes and deaths from heart disease can be prevented in people at high risk if they switch to a Mediterranean diet rich in olive oil, nuts, beans, fish, fruits and vegetables.” A July 2013 article on wcvb.com, a Boston news website, claimed that Connie Arnold, a cancer survivor, used a macrobiotic diet to cure her cancer.
With the dangers and cost of prescription drugs skyrocketing, I believe that patients should be asking their doctor questions before blindly accepting medicine that can be very harmful to their health. I understand that some prescription drugs are necessary and even life saving, but it doesn’t hurt to ask if a safer alternative to prescription drugs exists.