Friday, June 10, 2005

The Drug Bias in Medicine

A bias toward drug prescription is endemic in medicine. In Canada, there are 5,000 prescription drugs for sale. In the year 2000 in the United States, 173 million people filled 2.2 billion outpatient prescriptions, accounting for $103 billion in expenditures. Each year in Canada and the USA the money spent on prescription drugs increases. There are deep and fundamental problems with drug prescriptions. The problems are located in five groups; the producers, the prescribers, the dispensers, the users and the payers. Drug users are essentially naive and gullible and assume that the other groups have their interests first and foremost in mind. The producers have profit as the main motive.

The prescribers are dependent on the drug producers and remarkably obedient to the producers marketing commands. Some have argued the drug producers now own medicine and simply compete with each other for their market share.

The World Health Organization's Model List of Essential Drugs has 350 entries. The WHO defines essential medicines as those drugs that "satisfy the priority health care needs of the population. They are selected with due regard to public health relevance, evidence on efficacy and safety, and comparative cost-effectiveness." Even if you agree with the WHO drug list, most of the drugs are special purpose agents that have limited applicability. I have long thought that a physician could serve his or her patients best with a list of about 20 well-chosen, and well-understood drugs. As it now stands, primary care physicians prescribe 80% of the 5000 drugs available and understand less than 20 in any detail. Many patients take 6 to 10 prescription drugs daily; the number of drugs increases with age.

The medical management of arterial disease, for example, provides major markets for a variety of expensive prescription drugs. The scientific evidence that links high blood pressure, heart attacks, strokes, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes 2 and obesity grows stronger everyday. These are inter-connected diseases caused by eating too much of the wrong food and exercising too little. In Canada, a public financed health care system is too costly and is deteriorating rapidly as budget cuts reduce resources available. The tidal wave of food-related disease threatens to bankrupt health care systems if existing methods of diagnosis and treatment continue to be used.

Stephen Gislason MD

Please See Book of Heart and Arterial Disease