Health & Fitness

Does everyone need a pill?

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I thought I was healthy, but I have discovered health problems I didn't know I had. Menopause, for example. In my mother's day this was normal for women my age, but, apparently, medical science can now cure it.

A recent bone-density test revealed that I am in the normal percentile for my age -- but that's not good enough, and there is a pill that would do me a world of good.

Forget that my ratio of good-to-bad cholesterol is good; the bad is over the legal limit, and I should take a pill for it.

Blood pressure of 120/80 is no longer good; it is now borderline, and there are pills for that.

My friend Tom takes a handful of pills. His cholesterol levels are good, but, just in case, he takes a statin, even though his risk of liver damage from it is probably higher than the risks of the high cholesterol he doesn't have.

My neighbor Marjorie has a rambunctious 9-year-old son whose teacher says he is disruptive. Is he a naughty little boy or does he have ADD? Marjorie gives him a pill.

And Sam? Sam has discovered that he isn't the man he used to be, so the big guy takes a blue pill.

At what point did we become a pill-popping society? I believe the answer is when pharmaceutical companies began advertising.

The drug companies claim their ad campaigns educate the public. Critics say the real purpose is branding (think purple pill or Luna moth), but, more insidiously, it is medicalization, also known as disease-mongering.

It seems that, until Big Pharma tells us, many of us don't know we are sick. Who ever heard of irritable bowel syndrome before the media began trumpeting it in recent years?

The extent to which the drug companies go after profits is disturbing. Undoubtedly, advertising budgets have boosted the cost of drugs beyond the reach of many who actually need them. The profit motive is also propelling development of those drugs calculated to reach the widest market and not necessarily the drugs society most needs. Drugs for social phobias -- and who doesn't have one? -- are likely to bring in greater profits than those that treat drug-resistant bacterial infections.

I don't feel that I need advertisements to tell me what medications to take. In fact, I don't trust the information in those ads, even when I understand them.

With all we are learning about the incestuous associations between drug companies and drug studies, not to mention lax Food and Drug Administration oversight, healthy skepticism seems wise.

Selling sickness is obviously lucrative, and drug companies claim the right to a free market. Critics complain that drug advertising interferes with doctor-patient relationships.

Drug companies reply that empowering patients with information prevents medical paternalism. And there may be truth to that.

Still, I trust my doctor to prescribe what he believes is best for me, and I have questions about that pharmaceutical sales rep with the short skirt and cheerleader smile who just walked into his office.

--

Joanne Law is a freelance writer who lives in Chatsworth.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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