With our father being a diplomat, our family missed most of the pharmaceutical revolution that occurred in the U.S. during the ‘50’s and ‘60’s. Because of this, we did not get caught up in the cycle that so many have ended up in the U.S. That is, believing that every time a doctor writes a script, we need to get the script filled and we need to take the pill being prescribed. This does not mean that we never had our encounters with that reality.
When we returned from what was then the Belgian Congo, my mother started to fall asleep at around 10:30 at night. For a diplomat’s wife, the role of which often required “on” hours from 6 p.m. forward, this situation was worrisome. She went to her doctor. He concluded that she must have gotten some exotic “bug” from the Heart of Darkness and, although there was nothing in his repertoire that might directly address the “bug,” he did have something she could take that might help her stay awake. As it turned out, he prescribed amphetamines.
A couple of months later, my mother returned to the doctor and explained that the pills had worked wonderfully to keep her awake, but now she was having trouble going to sleep. “No problem,” the doctor apparently replied. He had just the thing for that. He prescribed a barbiturate.
Because we spent most of our time overseas, my mother could order hundreds of these pills at a time. Although she was never quite the same, she was happy with the results. My teen-age brother was even happier, as he became quite popular with his classmates as a source for uppers and downers. O those turbulent ‘60’s!
When I reached my ‘40’s (the age my mother was when this “sleeping disease” hit her), lo and behold, I would find myself dozing off at 10:30 p.m. Although it is possible that I might have gotten the same “bug” having lived in the Congo as well, and it is possible that the characteristics of this “bug” only manifests in a 40 year old system, I will venture to guess that most likely, the “sleeping-disease” was merely a biological change reflecting the age. I should acknowledge, though, that even if the doctor had come to this conclusion in my mother’s case, outcomes might not have been different.
In a National Center for Health Sciences article dated September 2010, prescription drug use continues to increase in the United States.
According to the article:
- Over the last 10 years, the percentage of Americans who took at least one prescription drug in the past month increased from 44% to 48%. The use of two or more drugs increased from 25% to 31%. The use of five or more drugs increased from 6% to 11%.
- In 2007-2008, 1 out of every 5 children and 9 out of 10 older Americans reported using at least one prescription drug in the past month.
- Those who were without a regular place for health care, health insurance, or prescription drug benefit had less prescription drug use compared with those who had these benefits.
- The most commonly used types of drugs included: asthma medicines for children, central nervous system stimulants for adolescents, antidepressants for middle-aged adults, and cholesterol lowering drugs for older Americans.
In the United States, spending for prescription drugs was $234.1 billion in 2008, which was more than double what was spent in 1999.
According to a study done by Jane Carlisle Maxwell, Ph.D. for The Center for Excellence in Drug Epidemiology. The Gulf Coast Addiction Technology Transfer Center, and The University of Texas at Austin
In 2007, 2.5 million Americans abused prescription drugs for the first time, compared to 2.1 million who used marijuana for the first time.
By survey, almost 50% of teens believe that taking prescription drugs is much safer than using illegal street drugs. Trends in the Abuse of Prescription Drugs by Jane Carlisle Maxwell, Ph.D.
Her report continues:
The sale of narcotic analgesic pills is increasing, as is diversion and the non-medical use of prescription drugs. These drugs are easy to obtain and they are viewed as “safer” than street drugs. Young adults have the highest rates of lifetime use of these drugs and fewer teenagers in 2005 thought that there was great risk in using these drugs, as compared to 2004. Emergency department visits involving non-medical use of pharmaceuticals usually involve multiple drugs as well as alcohol.
The Center for Excellence in Drug Epidemiology The Gulf Coast Addiction Technology Transfer Center The University of Texas at Austin
The use of prescription drugs among the young, then, is not so different from the turbulent ’60′s after all, and, according to studies, much more prevalent. Youth surveyed cited easy access and belief that prescription drugs were safer than drugs sold on the street as the reason that they took these drugs.
Beyond acknowledging just how prevalent pharmaceutical drugs are in our lives, it is also seeping into our environment.
Traces of prescription drugs—including antibiotics, anti-convulsants, mood stabilizers and sex hormones—have been detected in drinking water. (Wikipedia, USA Today, Sunday Telegraph)
If these chemicals are being found in our drinking water, they also have to be in other water ways, which probably means that when we eat fish, we are ingesting these chemicals through what we eat whether we are aware of it or not.
These findings frighten me. We speak about the war on drugs and yet one could make a case that the biggest culprits are those who “push” pharmaceutical drugs on the unaware general public. The irony is that the “pusher” is probably not fully cognizant of his/her role in the whole sordid picture or, at least, I certainly hope not.
© Yvonne Behrens, M.Ed 2012