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Last year, nearly 4 billion prescriptions were filled in retail U.S. pharmacies. (1) California filled about 300 million prescriptions alone. These are staggering numbers. In some states, people were on as many as 17 prescription medications at once! (1) Yet, despite the steady upward trend of prescriptions filled per year, (about 300 million more annually) are we any healthier? I would certainly argue this is not the case.

In fact, the World Health Report of 2000 ranked the United States number 37 in overall healthcare. (2) Despite numerous policy changes and enormous increases in healthcare spending, it isn’t looking more promising at the time being. So I wonder, with some U.S. citizens taking as many as 17 medications, who is monitoring for cross-interactions of polypharmacy or unnecessary prescribing? The truth is,  usually no one is!

How can we explain this constant upward trend of more drugs? Of course, it isn’t a simple answer. There are several factors to consider, but one of the most disturbing and latest trends is off-label prescribing. There are lot of failure drugs out there such as Celebrex, Thalidomide, Cymbalta, to name a few… But when a drug is deemed unsafe or doesn’t live up to expectations, this isn’t the end of the road. Pharmaceutical industries still wish to make a living, so off-labeling uses are often developed. If there is even a slight indication that a drug may have potential application for treating a symptom besides its original intent, the trial process will begin. Drug manufacturers will seek FDA approval. Of course, this isn’t usually in best interest of the patient.

Take for instance Cymbalta. Despite poor performance of antidepressants, (several studies in the Journal of American Medical Association and the National Institute of Health admit they fare no better than placebos) this wasn’t good enough. So now the Food and Drug Administration cleared Cymbalta for use of treating chronic pain. (3) This is just one of many examples. Minoxidil (commonly known as Rogaine,) was originally developed as a cardiac drug. However, it horrifically failed in terms of safety when taken orally. It was then further promoted topically to treat male-pattern baldness!

Do we see the disconnect here in logic? If I designed a car that repeatedly caught on fire every 10,000 miles, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t say, “Hmm … lets see how I can market this vehicle as an amphibious transport device.” That is the degree of lunacy we are facing. Throw in the overwhelming amount of cash inflow spent on marketing every year, and constant mindless programming of consumers, and you have a sure sell.

It is so easy to do. Especially when people are looking for quick, easy solutions. There may be a pill for every ill, but sometimes (most of the time) the cure is worse than the disease. Heck, many anti-depressants increase the risk of suicide. Gout medications may cause more gout.

The only way to heal our physical (not to mention spiritual, psychological) bodies is to take responsibility for our own health. This happens one small step at a time. It is not a massive shift in lifestyles for most. It just involves committing to that little bit of exercise or healthy eating habits. Maybe it means consuming a few more vegetables in the form of a salad or smoothie… maybe it means 30 more minutes per week of exercise (… For perspective, there are 10080 minutes in a week). Whatever the case, find your reason necessary to start taking action.

True answers will never happen in treating symptoms. We must address the root cause. Putting ice cubes in a pot of boiling water may cool things down for a bit, but eventually it will return to a raging boil. So, whatever the cause may be for you, search for answers. Take the next step.

As I never want to end on a bad note, I’d like to say, that I believe that healing through natural means is the road often less taken, but it is a rewarding path. Freedom is something we often take for granted. We have the freedom to choose what we put into our bodies, and how we direct our behaviors. Choose health. Choose happiness. Choose freedom from chronic disease. We aren’t helpless victims doomed to develop heart disease or cancer. Take control of your life.

(1) Total Number of Retail Prescription Drugs Filled at Pharmacies, 2011: http://www.statehealthfacts.org/comparemaptable.jsp?ind=265&cat=5&sub=66&sort=a&rgnhl=1

(2) Ranking 37th — Measuring the Performance of the U.S. Health Care System: http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMp0910064

(3) FDA clears Cymbalta to treat chronic musculoskeletal pain: http://www.fda.gov/NewsEvents/Newsroom/PressAnnouncements/ucm232708.htm

Photos by:  Fillmore Photography and  brains the head