A recent article in the Huffington Post revealed some interesting new information about the health habits of Americans: we are pill poppers. According to a recent study from the Mayo Clinic 7 of 10 Americans take at least one prescription drug a day. The most common prescription is antibiotics taken by 17%, followed by antidepressants and opioid pain medications (like oxycontin) each at 13%. More than ½ of us take at least 2 prescriptions daily and more than 20% of us take more than 5 prescriptions.
And yet, we as a country are less healthy than ever. Why? There is no simple reason. Yes, as the baby boomers age they will tend to develop chronic health conditions that require daily medications like high blood pressure, heart disease, arthritis and diabetes. And we are also becoming a society of people who are obese and do not exercise. It is no great secret that the American Medical Association just declared obesity to be a disease state.39.5% of Americans over 20 are obese and almost 70% are considered overweight. So we are fast becoming a nation of overweight, unhappy, unhealthy medicated people.
I have a few theories about why this may be happening. We live in an age where we expect to have all of our aches, pains and unpleasant symptoms to be relieved by modern medicine. Many people would rather be free of pain than free of disease. We view our health as something to be manipulated for our own convenience without regard to the future consequences of that manipulation. As a result we want medications to allow us to ignore the actual problem so that we don’t have to change our lives.
Another complication is that doctors don’t really have the time to focus on each patient in the way that we would prefer. Due to insurance reimbursements and other pressures Primary Care Physicians have to see up to 15 or more people per half day to make ends meet financially. The result is both patient and doctor are shortchanged of valuable time to really discuss what may be going on mentally and physically. We don’t have the time to talk about stress, family issues, unhealthy habits and most importantly how we can assist our patients in dealing with these challenges in ways that are healthy and drug free. One of my most important functions as a physician is to offer education, insight and empathy to everyone who comes through my door. I can’t do that in 15 minutes. Most other docs can’t either so we do what we can and what many expect of us: we medicate.
It is unfortunate but true that writing a prescription is easier that offering education, empathy or insight to someone who may or may not appreciate what is offered. Often, I have found that people would rather have a pill (the quick fix) than to face the realities offered by our bodies. We prefer to think of ourselves as machines much like our cars and computers to be manipulated at our convenience and always subject to our will. The problem is that machines and cars break and are routinely replaced within 10 years or less, even when scheduled maintenance is performed.
Whenever you see a commercial for the newest best pill on TV listen for that key phrase “Ask your doctor if _____ could be right for you”. Then ask yourself are you open to that answer being no? What if the answer you get is that you don’t need an antibiotic for your cold, a pain pill for your back or a diet pill for your obesity? If your doctor told you to go home and rest for your cold, exercise for your back pain and change your helath habits to loose weight would you accept that or go elsewhere to get a pill? Are you interested enough to have a conversation about your life and health? If you are I would love to talk to you.