Medication overuse

Medication Overuse – an epidemic

Medication Overuse – an epidemic

August 11, 2019 at 12.34 pm BST – by Geoff Bavin

‘Mother’s Little Helper’

“Doctor please, some more of these

Outside the door, she took four more

What a drag it is getting old.”

By David Zydd

When Jagger & Richards wrote this Rolling Stones’ hit in ‘66, medication overuse was already an issue. We’ve come a long way down the wrong road since the ‘modern world’ began to change how we live. Now we face a medication overuse epidemic.

Popping a pill has become the go to solution for all ills. High cholesterol? Do we change our diet? No, we take statins. High blood pressure? There’s no need to address what may have caused it, such as diet and exercise levels. There are beta-blockers for that, aren’t there? We have a niggling pain? What’s wrong with painkillers to mask the problem as the damage intensifies? So medication overuse becomes an epidemic.

Look at the comments on online newspaper statin stories. There are two camps. There are the pharmaceutical companies and doctors pushing statin usage, and those who say stay well away at all cost. The former two make money from them. The latter often use them, so are aware of potential adverse side effects

On the increase

Medication overuse, and over-prescription, is on the increase. In the US, between 2000 and 2012, people of all ages who were on medications doubled their intake of prescription drugs. So what does the US Federal Drug Administration (FDA) do about it? They lower the guidelines by recommending all over 40s take statins as a precautionary measure.

With high blood pressure, new US guidelines recommend lifestyle changes and, in ‘some patients’, medication. The new threshold would be 130/80 mm Hg rather than the current 140/90. This is based on new American College of Cardiology and American Heart Association (AHA) guidelines. These cover the detection, prevention, management and treatment of high blood pressure. The effect will be almost half of US adults will then be diagnosed as suffering from high blood pressure. 

In fairness, the AHA does state that people should be encouraged to modify their diet and exercise more.  The reality is that medication use will rise yet again. After all, the AHA receives considerable funding from pharmaceutical companies.

We could seek reassurance by saying, ‘that’s them, not us’. Except these trends are over this side of the pond too

On the fence

Sitting on a fence is more comfortable. It is psychologically, anyway. But in a media-led age, though, issues in our colourful world tend to be seen in black and white.

Put it this way, pills are sometimes essential life-savers, but are they always needed?

A pill or not a pill?

People today live long, if not always healthy, lives. Much of this is down to modern medicine. We weren’t always so lucky, especially in infancy, before antibiotics and penicillin. In 1919, in England alone, 228,000 people died during the worldwide flu epidemic. Many of these were from secondary bacterial infections, for which antibiotics were unavailable at the time. Some 40 million people died worldwide!

Mosquitoes have killed around half of everybody who has ever lived. That’s around 45 billion deaths, so never feel bad about splatting them! They are not our friends!! Without modern medicine, much of the planet would be uninhabitable. The issue instead is avoidable medication. We need to separate the good from the bad.

Prescription cascade

This is when the side effects of drugs are misdiagnosed as symptoms of another problem. The result is further side effects and unanticipated drug interactions. This can lead to yet more misdiagnoses and symptoms, all the while with the underlying condition/s not being addressed.

Let’s say you develop a chronic cough from ACE-inhibitors prescribed for high blood pressure, then you’re prescribed medication to treat this. A common side effect would be nausea and dizziness. So you are then prescribed a pill to treat these conditions. And so it rattles on. The more dependent you are, the more you become so. 

Also, the ready availability of a pill for every occasion takes us away from any concept of self-help. We are in effect depriving the body of its ability to restore a natural balance to our health.

Medication overuse is an epidemic destroying our health
Prescription cascade

“The doctor of the future will give no medication, but will interest his patients in the care of the human frame, diet and in the cause and prevention of disease.” Thomas Edison’s  quote heads our website blog page at for good reason.

Sadly, the United States’ greatest inventor didn’t always get it right!

Hippocrates (the ‘Father of Medicine’) thought along similar lines, and was ahead of Edison by a couple of thousand years – “The greatest medicine of all is teaching people how not to need it.”

As a society, we have gone in the reverse direction. Popping antibiotics like M&Ms is a good intention paving the road to Hell –

What would Dr. House say?

One day a global pandemic may knock on humanity’s door.  Perhaps we should give the last word (almost) on this to the all-knowing Dr House. “I have always stuck up for Western medicine. You can chew all the celery you want, but without antibiotics, three quarters of us would not be here.” (Hugh Laurie)

Now who would want to argue with House on medicine, or anything else for that matter? But one day, somewhere in the world, a chicken may sneeze. And on that day, its coughs and sneezes might spread diseases. Then it could be rather late in the day to find the drugs don’t work! –

Dr House and medication overuse
Dr House





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