I’ve mentioned before that when doctors or nurses ask me what prescription drugs I’m taking and I answer “none,” they seem surprised.  A couple of you made the same observation in comments.  That got me wondering what percent of people, say, over the age of 50 are taking some kind of prescription medication on a regular basis.

It took a little more digging than I expected to find an answer.  The first source that popped up in my Google search was a CDC report on what percent of Americans have taken at least one prescription drug in the past 30 days.  The answer was nearly half, but that’s a useless bit of data for answering my question.  I’m taking a prescription drug right now to treat an infection, but I don’t take one on a regular basis.

The same CDC report also suffered from useless statistical groupings.  For example, it grouped the population by age like this:

0-11
12-19
20-59
60 and over

Going from the 20-59 group to the 60 and over group, prescription drug use in the past 30 days jumped from 48% to 88%.  Wow … we must really fall apart after we turn 60, right?

No, of course not.  Lumping 57-year-olds together with 22-year-olds is ridiculous when it comes to reporting on prescription drug use.  The people I know who take prescription drugs on a regular basis started doing so sometime after age 40.

I finally found relevant data about regular drug use in US News article and in a report published by the AARP.  It isn’t a pretty picture.  As US News reported:

Today, a full 61 percent of adults use at least one drug to treat a chronic health problem, a nearly 15 percent rise since 2001.  More than 1 in 4 seniors gulp down at least five medications daily.

An adult, of course, is anyone over the age of 18.  That doesn’t narrow it down much.  AARP had better figures for people in my age bracket, i.e., adults over the age of 50:

The vast majority of Americans age 50+ (85%) say they have taken a prescription drug in the past five years, and three-fourths (76%) say they are currently taking at least one prescription drug on a regular basis.

So yes, those of who make it past age 50 without taking at least one prescription drug on a regular basis are in the minority, if not exactly unusual.  That’s sad.  The figures are even more depressing for the over-65 group:

Americans age 65+ (87%) are even more likely to say they take a prescription drug on a regular basis than those between the ages of 50-64 years (67%).

Yee-ikes.  Gather up a group of 10 retirees, and the odds are that nine of them are taking some kind of drug every day.  I plan to the one who doesn’t.

Those who say they are currently taking prescription drugs regularly say they take on average four different prescriptions drugs daily.

Scratch what I said above.  Gather up a group of 10 retirees, and the odds are the most of them are taking several drugs every day.

Overmedicating is a particular problem for seniors, more than half of whom take three or more medications per day. “The drug-drug interactions can be worse than the disease,” says John Morley, director of geriatric medicine at the St. Louis VA Medical Center. And too often, he adds, “doctors seem to suspend common sense” when devising a treatment plan. For example, they prescribe Aricept for Alzheimer’s patients and then treat a frequent side effect, urinary incontinence, with an anticholinergic like Enablex or Ditropan whose side effects include delirium, confusion, and memory loss. A current concern among public health experts is the use of antipsychotics in nursing homes to treat anxiety, confusion, and irritability, all frequently triggered by other medications.

Yup, people are taking drugs to treat the side effects of taking drugs.  Here’s one the US News article didn’t mention:  nearly 45% of Americans over the age of 60 are on a statin.  How many of those people are also on a painkiller to treat muscle and joint pain that their doctors haven’t traced to the statin?  I don’t have data on that, but my guess is that it’s rather a lot.

You could make a credible argument that statins are beneficial for one particular group of people:  men under the age of 65 who already have heart disease.  (And then I’d argue in reply that most of those men could achieve greater benefits with a change in diet.)  But there’s no way on God’s Green Earth that 45% of the people over age 60 are benefiting from beating down their cholesterol.  Most are wasting money at best, and paying to suffer needless side effects at worst.

Many medications serve an important purpose, as I was reminded this week.  If you’ve got a bacterial infection, an antibiotic is a blessing.  Some people will require drugs to control high blood pressure, high glucose, pain, seizures, etc.  no matter which diet they adopt.

But when nearly nine out of 10 seniors are taking prescription drugs, that’s not a blessing.  That’s a medical system treating lipid panels instead of heart disease.  That’s a medical system largely treating the effects of sugars, grains and processed seed oils in our diets — not the natural effects of living for more than 65 years.

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76 Responses to “The Drug Culture”
  1. Susan says:

    Speaking of drugs . . . Has anyone recently seen a commercial for Fosamax or Boniva lately? I am only asking because I have not seen one in quite a while, and I used to see them just about every day.

  2. Linda says:

    And the beat goes on………….a new drug just approved for obesity, with a lovely list of side effects.

    “Side effects from Belviq include serotonin syndrome – a potentially life-threatening drug reaction that causes the body to produce too much serotonin and causes symptoms of agitation, diarrhea, heavy sweating, fever, muscle spasms, tremors or mental health changes. People taking antidepressants or migraine drugs that increase serotonin levels may be at an increased risk for this side effect. The drug may also cause “disturbances in attention or memory,” the FDA said.”

    Good grief!

    Of course the patient will also receive counseling, diet info and exercise recommendations that work so well, as we all know.

    Ugh. I’d rather be fat.

  3. Marilyn says:

    @ Deranged Viking: Wouldn’t it be nice it the cutbacks to Medicaid encouraged doctors to prescribe only the most necessary drugs?

  4. Stacie says:

    I second what Laurie posted about the Yosephs’ book. It gives a history of the development of statins, the deception involved, and the utter lack of regard for the scientific evidence against them. Clearly, from the evidence presented in this book, no one should take statins.

  5. Paul says:

    Re Susan’s comment :- In NZ they are advertised on the television.

  6. Bee J says:

    Steve, I agree with — Tom, health is a great way to generate profits and pacify the population. —

    We have becoem a nation who has traded our responsibility for anything for pills.

    So sad

  7. Marilyn says:

    @ Susan: Fosamax and Boniva. Another class of drugs that shall never pass my lips! Some years back, a dear friend got necrosis of the jaw from Boniva. She lost her teeth and when they later tried to do implants the implants didn’t work. I recently saw yet another “osteoporosis” drug in a magazine, but I don’t remember what it was called.

  8. Marilyn says:

    @ Stacie: Do you have the Yosephs’ book on statins? It looks like an excellent book, but when I went to learn more about the Yosephs, I found nothing but a string of other books — weight loss, MS diet, etc.

  9. @Marilyn

    It’s on Amazon for about $15. For some reason, it’s over $30 at B&N.

    Cheers

  10. Jennifer says:

    This is a nice summary on a t shirt from Dr. Eenfeldts website:

    http://www.dietdoctor.com/our-daily-meds

    Perfect.

  11. Stacie says:

    @Marilyn: Yes, I have the book. I ordered it from Amazon. It is a very eye-opening book. All Fatheads should read it! I am only halfway through it, but I am utterly astounded that this poison is actually legal, not to mention prescribed to just about everybody. Statins will probably go down as the greatest medical/pharmaceutical scam and debacle of all time.

  12. Stephanie says:

    Susan, I did see a commercial from a law firm collecting people that had taken fosamax for a class action suit.

  13. LindaSue says:

    Just like Nola, I’m 55 years old and it’s been nearly 30 years since I last took a prescription drug. I’ve been low carb for 10 years (maintaining my weight loss for 9 years) and haven’t had so much as a cold or the flu since Thanksgiving of 2002.

    Excellent. You have a good, strong immune system.

  14. Marilyn says:

    Thanks, Older Brother! I’ve parked it there until I meet the minimum for free shipping. :-)

  15. Susan says:

    I took Fosamax for just about a year, when I was in my forties, until one evening I couldn’t swallow. For about three days all I could get down my throat was a small dribble of water. The docs couldn’t find anything wrong, but I quit taking it anyway. I have osteopenia, but I will find a way to manage without the bio-phosphates. My recent DEXA came back worse than ever, despite my LC/Primal diet. The only thing I can think of left to add to my routine is more exercise, so I am starting with a ten pound kettlebell. I might have to invest in some steel-toed tennis shoes however, as I am a tiny bit clumsy.

    Yes, please don’t drop a kettlebell on your toes.

  16. Galina L. says:

    Susan,
    magnesium supplements and vitamin D could be helpful as too.

  17. Marilyn says:

    @ Susan, just to give a little perspective here — Some years ago a woman I know (in her late 50s at the time) was told that she had severe osteoporosis — she was at the very top end of “bad.” Shortly afterwards, she tripped on a sidewalk and slammed herself down onto the concrete. She had cuts and bruises, but didn’t break anything! I have read that everyone’s bones thin as people get older, but thinner doesn’t necessarily mean weaker. The problem with the osteoporosis drugs is that there is always normal healthy tear-down-build-up process within a bone. Filling the bone up with gunk from some drug may make the bone scan look better, but the bone is actually now prevented from being healthy because the drug stuff gets in the way of normal bone function. I’ve read that a good diet for bone health includes plenty of animal protein and fat. I’m banking on that for myself. :-)

  18. Marilyn says:

    @ Jennifer: That’s a very funny shirt! Unfortunately, I knew someone for whom the cascade was not funny: autoimmune problem treated by long-term prednisone, which led to a diagnosis of osteoporosis, which led to a prescription for Boniva, which led to necrosis of the jaw. The Vioxx prescribed for all the pain led to strokes which continued even after the Vioxx was discontinued. For the strokes the doctor recommended a very low fat diet, which of course was useless. Eventually, there was a fatal stroke.

  19. LaurieLM says:

    Sometimes when I read things or do research, information doesn’t quite sink in all at once, and the import isn’t all there just yet.
    I am beginning to be struck by statements the Yoseph’s make in “How Statin Drugs Really Lower Cholesterol, and Kill One Cell at a Time’- that the lowering of blood cholesterol doesn’t make the cholesterol just disappear. It has to go somewhere.
    It is subtle and I don’t think I get it fully yet, but just because labs show that blood cholesterol is elevated, and a patient is then duped into taking poisonous statins to ostensibly lower that lab value, and then it does go lower, people stop thinking at that point. But where did it go? Was it flushed out of the body down the drain? (which would be a waste of brain building, maintaining, immune system operating and enhancing miracle molecules). No maybe, cholesterol is so important to life and trying to get rid of it so compromises the system, that it is spared and stuffed, seriously damaged- oxidized, into the cells.

  20. Stacie says:

    @Lauriel: The Yosephs describe what happens to the cholesterol. I think I understand it. It is sort of like the disappearing rabbit trick. Statins inhibit reductase, which inhibits mevalonate. As a consequence, everything along the mevalonate pathway is inhibited (CoQ10, isoprenoids, squalene, cholesterol, etc.) All of these substances are vital to cells being able to replicate, as all cells have a certain lifespan. So, the cells pump out more reductase, When this happens, the number of LDL receptors on the cell membranes increases, so more cholesterol is pulled into the cells, and out of the blood. Voila!! Blood cholesterol has been reduced, but it has been moved to a different place. As they state over and over, when mevalonate is blocked, cells die. Slowly, cell by cell, statins kill.

  21. gollum says:

    Germany is full of ads for OTC medication, mostly the “dumb money” corners of the market (women and TV magazines, TV)

    Most of it comes as half-ad or editorial content, like when they “inform” you about how you’re about to have a poison (like F-) deficiency you can cure by a quality product from the pharmacy.
    I don’t remember ads for real drugs, I’d guess they are pushed at the quack office or by these totally unbiased newspaper-writes-about-wonder-drug-information.

    There is also a significant market in quack food, like oat slime that make you peak at this-% less blood sugar (control was pure sugar poison), the usual phytosterine racket, or wonder-berry of the year. It makes you positively sad knowing people are actually buying this stuff as last straws or placebos for themselves or their dear relatives. “False hope. MOM(tm) loves it.”

  22. Ailu says:

    @Susan:

    So sorry to hear of your experience with Fosamax. Have you heard of the supplement strontium? I found out about it when I was trying to build bone after my neck surgery. Doctor flipped when he saw my first x-ray afterwards, as I was already fused – he said it was “medically impossible”. So I told him about the strontium, and later emailed him all the studies I had found on it. They use it extensively in Europe for osteoporosis, but it isn’t even heard of here. If I find the email, I will post it here. One important thing: make sure you also take calcium when you take strontium, but not at the same time – strontium helps build the scaffolding of the bone, and then the calcium helps fill it in. But you have to take them at different mealtimes, as they compete for uptake.

    Wish you all the best!

  23. Ailu says:

    In the meantime, found this blog by a woman with osteoporosis that has had great success with strontium. She’s got lots of studies posted on it, as well:

    http://www.strontiumforbones.blogspot.com/

  24. Susan says:

    Thanks Ailu,

    I will keep an eye out on this blog post. :)

  25. Rebecca Foxworth says:

    For some reason, when I read this article, I realized that the medical industry (and I do mean *industry*) has somehow turned total cholesterol and BMI numbers into the FICO score of the medical field.
    I have a family member whose FICO score is rock bottom, or non-existent, depending on which of the reporting agencies you contact. Does she have bad credit? Is she in financial difficulty? On the contrary. She’s dealt in cash transactions for so long, there’s no record of her constant use of credit (or lack of constant use of credit). She could probably buy all the houses on her block for flat-out cash with money left over to spare, but she would never qualify for a loan because she’s a “bad risk”. That’s how ridiculous reducing anything to one number is, health and nutrition included.

    Indeed, Dave Ramsey points out that your FICO score is an “I love debt” score.

  26. Yeah, NZ is one of the only countries that allows drug adverts on TV.
    Fossamax is advertised despite a news story that it INCREASED risk of fractures after long-term use.
    Now they say only take it for a year or two.
    But then what? What would be the point of using it at all? Are degenerative diseases temporary, like colds, now?

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