Overprescribing of medications may be contributing to serious health problems in the American public.
Doctors Overprescribing Medications
Statistics show that half of all Americans have used at least one prescription drug in the last month and more than 10% are currently taking five or more prescription drugs. When it comes to the elderly, the numbers are even higher. Changing definitions of disease, a growing number of medications and increases in direct-to-consumer marketing for prescription medications is contributing to a potential crisis of overprescribing.
Changing Disease Definitions
Researchers at Dartmouth Medical School estimate tens of millions more Americans were diagnosed with a sickness or health problem beginning during the 1990s than in years past. One reason points to the fact that definitions of diseases have changed. And behind those changes, are USA pharma companies wanting to classify more healthy people as sick—and doctors over prescribing medications to their patients.
The Dartmouth researchers further show that every time the definition of disease is expanded, the market for drugs is expanded by millions of consumers and billions of dollars. For example, when the hypertension threshold is lowered by 10 blood-pressure points or the guideline for obesity is lowered by 5 pounds, many more people will now be classified as “sick” and subject to medications to treat their “new” illness.
As a result of changes in our definitions of illness, today three in four Americans are considered to have at least one disease, but millions of these people are truly not sick, resulting in sales of drugs and over prescribing of drugs, to people who do not need them, but can afford to pay for them.
Until the 1990’s, prescription drugs could only be advertised to health care professionals. In 1996, however, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, under pressure from pharmaceutical manufacturers, began allowing television and print advertising for marketing directly to the public.
This has allowed the pharmaceutical industry to encourage consumers to “ask their physician” for certain medications, in some cases for disease they didn’t know they had until they saw an ad on the television. Now with the internet and social media, the problem is only increasing. Direct-to-consumer (DTC) marketing may be contributing to millions of cases of overprescribing each year.
Overprescribing of Opioids and Antibiotics
The biggest harm that is known to be caused by overprescribing may be in the area of opioid pain medications and antibiotic therapy. Overprescribing of opioids has contributed to millions of people becoming addicted to powerful pain medications and has led to thousands upon thousands of cases of overdose and death. The opioid epidemic has become a public health crisis and several manufacturers are currently under investigation for their marketing practices, including Purdue Pharma, makers of OxyContin.
Antibiotic medications are largely thought to be frequently overprescribed. Overprescribing of antibiotics may be mostly driven by patients who demand a prescription to treat a simple illness which would go away with time and care. Doctors who are rushed or who wish to please their patients, may give in or automatically write a prescription which is unnecessary.
Overuse of antibiotics may be increasing the numbers of resistant bacteria and creating “superbugs” which cannot be treated with medications. As normal “ordinary” bacteria are exposed unnecessarily to antibiotics, they “learn” to become resistant and create infections which cannot be easily treated with antibiotics. This has led to emergence of more and more cases of infections of Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) skin infections, Clostridium difficile (C-dif) diarrhea and cases of “super” sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) like Gonorrhea and Syphilis.
When Drugs are Overprescribed
In some cases, when medications are overprescribed or incorrectly prescribed, they may create unnecessary side effects. These side effects may not only be harmful, but may in turn, be treated with more medications. Ultimately, overprescribing is both expensive and harmful to the patient and to the public.
If you have been harmed by medication that may have been unnecessarily prescribed or overprescribed or suffered serious side effects from a dangerous drug, you may need to have your case evaluated by legal experts.