The “medicalisation” and overmedication of life

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Two interesting articles I read today have prompted me to comment. Though the articles are unrelated, my comments pertain to both. One article discussed the “medicalisation” of life, while the other introduced a new “polypill”.

Coming from the US, I have experienced the information overload from television ads for every prescription medication under the sun. Of course, most of the ads are for the most prevalent or popular conditions being discussed at the time. And it does seem that certain conditions become fads, which fade into posterity, only to make room for the next prominent diagnosis and pill to treat it.

The profit-hungry drug manufacturers are major contributors to this “health conscious” public. They claim that people need to be informed about medical problems and potential treatment. They argue that an informed public will seek medical treatment for conditions which, if unrecognised and undiagnosed, may lead to negative outcomes. The public, of course, love to hear that someone is fighting for their good, so they agree with that. Hence, the free rein for drug companies to advertise all their products to the unsuspecting consumer. But time has revealed that “a little knowledge can be dangerous” and doctors have been bombarded with patient questions regarding new medications. Many of them try to convince their doctors that they need such and such a pill because the ads said so. Granted, a few people might actually have the condition for which the pill addresses, but imagine all the other people who would not only not benefit, but may actually be harmed if they used such a medication. There is no one available to protect the consumer from him/herself.

Dr. Louise Foxcroft pointed out the series of diagnoses that have been given out throughout history. Today, we may laugh at what was defined as physical and mental illness and the treatments provided, but future generations will probably do the same to us. We are in danger of promoting new illnesses by constantly pursuing new diagnoses, all at the demand of drug companies. Also, many are persuaded to blame all their problems on these new diagnoses. There are countless instances I have witnessed of inappropriate medication, in my opinion. These mostly relate to depression. Practically all of us have experienced feeling down once in a while in our lives. It is normal. It may be a reaction to the various stresses in our lives. Most of us have developed means to address and overcome these feelings. To classify it as a mental disorder and give it a medical terminology allows people an outlet for blame. It’s a cop-out and in this “scapegoat” world, it is easy to accept. For those who want to dull all their senses so that they cannot feel grief, sadness, or anger, it is a deprivation of a life experience. I do not dispute that there are many cases of real “depression” out there, but the numbers provided for research purposes by drug companies are over-inflated.

I completely agree with Dr. Tim Kendall that we have become a society that likes to categorise people into medical problems. Everything that is part of life has now become a medical issue and pills are continually being manufactured to combat all of life’s “problems”. Even menopause is a medical diagnosis. The public needs to accept that we are born, we live and we die. We cannot stop that (even though some scientists are trying to develop ways to make us live forever). While we live, our bodies undergo natural changes. Sometimes, these natural changes go out of control and we may need help to fix it. Sometimes, that is not possible. That is why our bodies die, some old, some young.

While we live, we have the opportunities to take care of our health as best we can. This includes eating right, exercising, and avoiding all the unhealthy habits such as smoking and drinking alcohol. Unfortunately, not everyone listens to this sound advice. In fact, more and more people are listening less and less. That is why there is a growing problem with obesity, resulting in diabetes and increased heart disease. But science refuses to stop and encourage people to change their habits. No, they would rather create more medications to address the new and real medical conditions that have arisen. As more and more medications become available, there is the danger that someone can require too many pills. Polypharmacy has been a major issue for some time and the risk of adverse side effects and interactions of medications is very serious. So drug companies have turned to making “polypills” – those two-in-one drugs that have now been extended to five-in-one in the latest research. These polypills only encourage bad behaviour as people view these as a “cure-all” for all their problems. Unfortunately, what they do not realise is that all five may not be necessary for what they need.

I concede that the drug companies would argue that putting all five medications into one pill makes it easier on the patient, and they would not release it unless it was deemed safe. However, we have seen time and time again that what happens in research does not always translate into what happens in real life. Test subjects are not the same as real patients. It would certainly help if people can accept the facts of life, make life changes appropriate to their needs and only take medications when absolutely essential. It would also help if drug companies adopted the same stance.

 

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