Overmedicated in America

Do you wake up tired in the morning?

Do you feel upset when you’ve had a bad day?

Well, you’re in luck, because there is a pill for that! In fact, there are pills for almost everything now, be it a real or imagined aliment. According to a new study by the CDC, almost 130 million Americans take prescription drugs at least once a month.

On top of the number of people taking drugs is the massive swelling of number of prescriptions given. IMS Health, a pharmaceutical consulting company reports that over the past decade, those levels have increased by two-thirds, equaling a staggering 3.5 billion prescriptions a year.

That is almost 12 prescriptions per American!

And the numbers for Gen Y prescriptions are frightening, to say the least. In 1990, 5.6% of people between the ages of 18-44 reported being on three or more prescription drugs, by 2003 that number had nearly doubled to 10.6%.

Are we supposed to believe that people are just getting sicker? Or could it be that we are all just being told that we are sicker?

According to Dr. Macia Angell, former editor of the New England Journal of Medicine, “[Americans] are taking way too many drugs for dubious or exaggerated ailments. What the drug companies are doing now is promoting drugs for long-term use to essentially healthy people. Why? Because it’s the biggest market.”

We are all aware of just how profitable the prescription drug industry can be. It is projected that by 2014, global drug sales will top 1 trillion dollars!

The over-use of medication has become standard in the Millennial social fabric. It has been ingrained in our nature that the first line of defense for any ill-feeling is a pill, or shot, or nasal spray of some kind. Social critics have deemed this the signature response of our time—“the urge to manage psychic pain through substance use.”

This is really our generation’s problem. It all started 12 years ago, when the FDA allowed drug companies to advertise on television. Being avid TV watchers, we become constant targets for these advertisements.

The availability of new “wonder drugs” and “miracle pills” has, of course, improved the lives and livelihoods of millions suffering from long-term illnesses such as HIV/AIDS, diabetes, and other diseases. However, for other conditions such as high blood pressure, obesity, and depression, patients are often under-diagnosed and over-medicated.

The use of anti-depressants in children under 18 has been a hotly contested issue in medical journals and the mainstream media. Focus continually reverts backs to the dangers of these medications when monstrous events occur, such as we saw when it was revealed that Columbine gunmen Eric Harris had been on anti-depressants prior to the 1999 massacre.

The debate is now turning its focus to drugs like Ritalin and Adderall, which are continuously given to children who show symptoms of ADD/ADHD. While these drugs can be helpful, critics warn of their potentially dangerous and damaging side effects when taken at such a young age.

There’s  a reason that the generation of children coming up after us is being nicknamed Generation Rx.

For us Millennials, the use of prescription drugs for recreation (those extra Vicodin after wisdom-tooth extraction, or a few Adderall before that big Calculus final) isn’t something that we shake our heads at. It has become a normal part of the adolescent experience, something we’ve all had experience with.

However, if the number of  drug prescriptions keeps going up, it will not be unauthorized use or abuse that we’ll have to worry about.

Soon, we won’t be borrowing prescriptions from friends, or buying them on the street corner. We’ll just make an appointment, invent a symptom, and walk away, poison and pleasure in hand.

As a student of public health, the increased availability of prescription drugs is both a miracle and a curse. Doctors and health practitioners are now able to extend and improve the quality of life in ways that we never thought would be possible.

However, with increased use comes increased abuse, and as someone who knows just how much of an impact drug abuse can have on the greater public health, I find myself torn.

Medicine and its administration should be left to doctors and health professionals, it should not be acceptable, advisable, or even allowed to demand a certain medication from a doctor, simply because you believe that you or your child have a certain condition.

We, as students in this field, are first and foremost taught to do no harm, and that all drugs are poison. Maybe it is time we start treating them that way.

Jen Schmidt I currently live in Washington D.C., though i still call New England home. I have a master's degree in public health and policy and a background in political science and communications. I work for social justice in health care, and am eager to engage social media, public movements, and sound policy to create and sustain lasting change. Twitter: @Jschmidt19

View all posts by Jen Schmidt

2 Responses to “Overmedicated in America”

  1. glen hughes

    “Are we supposed to believe that people are just getting sicker? Or could it be that we are all just being told that we are sicker?”

    Neither. It comes down to being lazy. In the old days if you had a math final you would spend all your time focused on learning the math, there was no facebook or texting to distract you. People didn’t “multi-task” they just hunkered down and hit the books. Now its just easier to take a pill and spend a fraction of the time studying.

    Back when I played football our coach was anti-steroids and we got tested twice a season. So while we saw guys on other teams bulking up fast we were forced to do it the old fashioned way, proper diet and weight training. Same theory holds true for girls. Now you want to loose 20 pounds you just take a few pills (or do some lines) but back in the day it took more effort and watching your diet.

    Perhaps its time to stop looking for the easy way and start looking for the proper way.

  2. Marjii

    Bravo! This is what I’ve noticed for the 7 years of my young son’s life: Preschool and Elementary classrooms are run by women, cater to girls’ generally compliant and group-oriented demeanor and are completely in conflict with boys’ general tendency to move, fidget, interject, be independent etc. etc. Of course there are exceptions, but take a group of young boys outside for a math or science lesson and 9 times out of 10 you’ll enjoy full engagement. My kids attend a gifted school and 80% of the boys there are on Adderrol or Ritalin or have been diagnosed with ADD/ADHD. Twice-exceptional, my eye! They just have twice the testosterone. I’ve witnessed 8 of my 10 nephews robbed of their personality and develop a dependency on meds to function as adults, so I will not allow the school system to do the same to my son. If they can’t find productive ways to channel his energy, I will pull him out, quit my job, and do it myself.


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