A Pill for Every Ill? Not So Fast!

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“Dear Pharmacist,

I read you in my local newspaper and find your columns very interesting and refreshing in a sea of misinformation about drugs and supplements. I know you are a pharmacist, but sometimes I think you’re totally anti-medicine. Suzy is that true, be honest, is it true?”

–J.E. Gainesville, Florida

Answer: No, it’s not. I’m anti “over-medicating.” I do “think outside the pill” and I feel strongly that many chronic diseases can be improved by addressing underlying deficiencies of vitamins, minerals, enzymes and hormones. But thinking outside the pill in an emergency situation can be dangerous, and so I pride myself on being sensible rather than stupid.

The United States healthcare industry is just that, an “industry.” In fact, according to a Reuters article, U.S. healthcare spending jumped to $2.2 trillion in 2007; according to a NY Times article, we spent $227.5 billion of that on prescription medications. In 2014, the United States alone spent $7,960 per person (per year_ for health care in the U.S., totaling about $2.5 trillion (OECD.org statistics).

Just mind-boggling!

I recently went to a pharmacy that was tightly wedged between a fast food restaurant, a coffee house, and an ice cream parlor – a brilliant location choice by the pharmacy owners! Why? Because you can get your trans-fat-laden burger and go straight to the pharmacy to get Lipitor for cholesterol. They both have drive-thrus so you won’t burn a single calorie.

Less than a block away, go to the coffee shop and get your double-shot mocha latte and then swing through the pharmacy to get your Alprazolam and Amlodipine to suppress the jitters and control blood pressure. Why stop there … go to the ice cream parlor and get a hot fudge sundae (it contains about 50 grams of carbs) and come back to the pharmacy to get your Metformin to reduce blood sugar. Get some antacids while you’re at it 😉

When the boss asks where you’ve been for three hours, just tell him you went to pick up your prescriptions!

Is it just me, or do you also believe that our lifestyle choices and dietary habits put us on a medication merry-go-round? Some Americans have the mindset that a pill will fix every single ill. Well, at least that’s what the commercials imply.

Wrong, dead wrong in some cases! Many popular drugs just mask symptoms to make you temporarily more comfortable, but the price tag may include some serious side effects. It’s not everyone, just the unlucky ones but who here wants to take that chance? You think it won’t happen to you, but it might. The truth is your odds are 50/50 that you’ll have a good response versus a bad one. I’m not anti-drug, really I’m not. I depend on medicines to be available for my family members, and for all of you and truly they can be a Godsend for you. Here are some groups of people for whom medication is essential and possibly even life-saving:

People with life-threatening allergies who need an Epi-pen
People hurting with chronic or acute pain
– Asthmatics who need breathing inhalers
Anyone with neuropathy or phantom pain
People with narcolepsy who need stimulants
Epileptics who need anti-seizure medicine
People with heartbeat irregularities or angina
People prone to anxiety before MRIs, dental procedures or surgery

The list goes on because some medications are simply invaluable. What bothers me is the indiscriminate prescribing of drugs to people who could improve their health naturally.

And if you like my approach to health, and my rebel attitude, you will love my Drug Mugger book, which spills the beans and tells you how some of your medications might be stealing the life out of you, literally! That Metformin I mentioned earlier reduces B12, the Alprazolam (Xanax) can reduce your melatonin over time. Amlodipine belongs to the class of calcium channel blockers and this category of medications deplete a lot! Collectively speaking, they are drug muggers magnesium, Vitamin B6, potassium, zinc, CoQ10 and folic acid.

What about your bones? Bisphosphonate drugs like alendronate (Fosamax) can mug you of calcium, magnesium and phosphorous. So if you take any of those medications, you should be on the lost nutrients or at least monitor levels to make sure you don’t run out of them. There’s a lot more about this phenomenon in my Drug Muggers book.