Rx for America’s Drug Issues is not in a Pill

Dayton, Ohio – The federal government recommended nearly tripling the number of people using a type of drug for lowering cholesterol levels earlier this month, one day after the Supreme Court upheld federal prohibition of using a type of drug for relieving pain and nausea. That was three days after the maker of a legal pain-relieving drug stopped shipping its largest dose because so many had become addicted to it.

The week before, headlines hailed the approval of a “miracle cancer drug” for leukemia just two days after they had decried the 19 percent rise in prescription drug expenses.

Lifesaving medicines are well worth the costs, say drug manufacturers, eagerly standing up for consumers even if they are also fighting a proposal to let consumers buy the best-selling allergy drugs more cheaply without a prescription. Insurance companies favor that move on behalf of cash-strapped consumers, neglecting to mention that insurers would stop paying for the drugs, so they might actually cost consumers more out of pocket.

This is a country with drug issues.

We love the magic of pills because we hate working on our health.

We love the expensive technology that makes pills seem magic, but hate paying the expensive prices that manufacturers can charge because we hate working on our health.

We love the variety of things drugs can do but hate the side effects of drugs that have the versatility to calm our heartburn and constipate us at the same time.

We love how drugs make us feel better but hate the ones that make us feel better without contributing to the prescription-drug lobby.

The expansion of cholesterol drugs pushes all our buttons, giving us the illusion of magic pills that are often unaffordable and occasionally toxic, recommended by a government more hooked on drugs than the cancer patients using marijuana illegally for their pain and nausea. Public Citizen’s Health Research Group says the drug industry spent more than $230 million in the last election cycle on lobbying, campaign contributions and advertisements.

“You’ll find the government has conflicts of interest on a whole lot of drugs,” says Centerville, Ohio, pharmacist Kristine Severyn, who founded the Vaccine Policy Institute.

The Wall Street Journal reported five of the 14 panel members recommending more cholesterol drugs have received professional fees from those drugs’ manufacturers.

Cholesterol drugs in the statin class cost Americans $9.66 billion a year, with typical doses about $100 a month. The new guidelines from National Cholesterol Education Program of the National Institutes of Health urge giving the drugs to 36 million people, or one of every six adults, instead of the current 13 million.

“It sounds to me like they’re saying the body can’t take care of itself, so we’ve got to pay big bucks to some big drug company,” says Grandview Hospital pharmacist Ron Rust.

The report mentioned diet and exercise, but it focused on prescribing drugs in more cases. Severyn worries the emphasis on drugs will distract people from the higher heart-disease risk factors of smoking, excess weight and diabetes.

There’s probably more we don’t know about predicting heart disease than we do know. More than half the Americans with arteries narrowing ominously have none of the risk factors we’ve so far identified. More specific new suspects, such as homocysteine and the LDL cholesterol called lipoprotein(a), were beyond the scope of the NCEP report.

It turns out those two artery assailants can be controlled with physician-monitored niacin treatments for about one-tenth the cost of statins. That’s the problem. Like vegetables and exercise, the B vitamin doesn’t generate enough profits to pay for making sure congressmen and doctors are aware of its value.

“I’m not saying these drugs aren’t important or necessary at times,” Rust says. “If my blood pressure is 300 over 150, I don’t want them to wonder about how it got that way. I want them to bring it down before I have a stroke. But once it’s down, let’s find out how I can change my lifestyle or diet instead of prescribing more drugs for something that can be treated naturally.”

Statins are truly remarkable drugs. Research indicates they help reduce deaths from heart disease, our No. 1 killer, even among people with normal cholesterol.

When unintended consequences like that are less happy, they’re called side effects. For statins, Rust says side effects include liver damage, abdominal pain, rashes, constipation and diarrhea.

“And those are just the ones we recognize. A lot of times, the worst side effects are ones we don’t know.”

Diabetes was the last disease to have a new threshold increase diagnoses significantly, and a new drug called Rezulin quickly reached the market. Rezulin was blamed for dozens of deaths from liver failure before being recalled.

As with diabetes, treating borderline levels of high cholesterol might be a great idea. Reaching too quickly for the medicine cabinet might not be.

by Kevin Lamb – © 2001 Cox News Service

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