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Medication Madness

Has Healthcare in America Reached Pharmageddon?

Healthcare risks from medications seen in red pills


The term “pharmageddon” was coined by healthcare industry experts grown increasingly concerned about the dominance of medications as physicians’ primary tool for managing disease.

Here’s their definition:

Pharmageddon: The prospect of a world in which medicines and medicine produce more ill-health than health, and when medical progress does more harm than good.”[1]

Are we there yet?

Danger in Drugs

The threat is greatest in the U.S. with our healthcare system’s far greater dependence on medications than other developed countries (see Our Healthcare Sucks).

Americans’ comfort with popping pills for convenience and expediency – combined with healthcare financial incentives to over-prescribe medications to keep office visits brief and physician incomes up – have conspired to create a deadly situation.

Already over ten times as many Americans die every year from the prescribed use of medications as die from the abuse of street drugs.

According to the CDC, 93% of unintentional poisoning deaths in 2007 were caused by medications:

“Opioide pain medications, such as methadone, hydrocodone and oxycodone, were most commonly used, followed by cocaine and heroin.”[2]

Physicians’ favorite drugs these days are these addictive opiate painkillers and cholesterol-lowering statin drugs like Lipitor and Crestor.

How favored are they?

In 2009, Americans filled almost 4 billion prescriptions for these drugs[3] – that’s enough for every man, woman and child in America to take these drugs every month of the year.

Here are a few of the “heavy hitters”:


Medication Madness

How our best-selling drugs cause harm

(Potential risks are for entire drug category, not individual drugs)

Class of Drug

Strongest/Highest Risk

Potential Risks




Heart attack/Stroke

Heart attack/Stroke





Muscle (heart) weakness

Insulin resistance

Type 2 Diabetes

Weight gain

Cognitive impairment



Breast cancer

Ovarian cancer

Proton Pump

Inhibitors (PPIs-

Acid reflux)






Spine/hip fractures

Irregualr heartbeats

Muscle spasms



You get the idea. This is a list that could go on for days.

Anyone properly concerned about their medication risks should consider joining For a nominal fee, you have access to extensive information about the risks of individual medications. You can also search by symptom to see if a medication you’re taking may be causing your symptoms.

Other drug-safety resources are discussed in MedSmart Patients and in Medication Risks & How to Safely Reduce Them.

Are You at Risk?

All medications pose risks of side effects and long-term complications – a nice way of saying they can CAUSE disease and injury rather than prevent them.

Your own risk depends on a number of factors:

  • Genetics – Drug effects vary with individual DNA and proteomic composition, metabolism, and other highly personalized factors. This is why they work for some people and not for others – and it’s generally a 50-50 proposition at best.;

  • Age – Once you hit 50, your body’s major detoxifiers – your liver and kidneys – start to deteriorate. Studies show that patients 70 and over have much less ability to remove the accumulated toxic waste from the medications they take, which are left to accumulate in their bodies and increase their risks of complications and injury. Of course, there’s nothing magic about the age of 70 – some people will have much higher risk at 50 and others maybe not so much. But age is definitely a strike against anyone on medications;

  • Number of medications – The more medications you take, the greater your risk of adverse interactions between them that will cause you harm. The truth is that  neither your doctor or your pharmacist can reasonably estimate your actual risk beyond three medications a day – there are just too many potential interactions between the drugs themselves and between them and your unique biological makeup.

  • Over-the-counter drugs and even supplements can also have adverse interactions with your prescription medications and should be included in calculating your total daily intake of medications.

  • Lifestyle – Diet, physical activity or inactivity, stress, sleep or lack of it, your personal toxic burden…these all have very direct and significant impacts on your need for, and response to, medications.

    While given short shrift in most of medical practice today, a few ounces of prevention with smarter lifestyle behaviors can reduce your need for medications and your risk of medication injury better than anything medicine has to offer.

“The Treatment Was a Success, But…”

It’s hard for most of us to visualize the potential harm that drugs can cause, as evidenced by their prevalence in American society and the cavalier attitude among patients and doctors alike about “popping another pill”.

But if you think about those we do know about – like chemotherapy drugs for cancer patients – it helps you appreciate that all drugs can have such unwanted, and dangerous, effects.

Chemotherapy works in only 1 out of 4 or 5 cancer patients – yet its toxic effects are virtually universal.Healthcare risks from medications spelled out with word "risk" on four red blocks

Death rates from causes other than cancer are over a third higher for those on chemotherapy – another example of “the treatment being a success but the patient died”.

Staggering Statistics

Drug-induced death and disease is extremely real even if it’s largely unseen. It’s estimated that over 106,000 Americans die every year from the prescribed use of their medications – more than die from breast and prostate cancer combined – and ten times as many as die from the abuse of street drugs.

These are staggering statistics, but people don’t generally respond to statistics.

If they knew that a loved one had died from their medications and not their disease – which we’re seldom told – maybe then they’d pay more attention to what they ingest.

Given the cloak of secrecy surrounding such practices, however, we mostly remain ignorant and at unknowing risk – relying on doctors to protect us when the record shows they’re failing miserably at doing so.

Until that changes (and don’t hold your breath), those who DO respond to the statistics – the evidence – have the best hope of avoiding becoming one of these sorry statistics themselves.

So which will YOU be?

[2] Poisoning in the United States; Fact Sheet. Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

[3] IMS National Prescription Audit PLUS™.

This article is provided for informational and educational purposes only.
It does not constitute medical advice and should not be relied upon as such.

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