Vol. 85 March 1, 2013 “As Time Goes By…Take A Pill”

hubIn the 70’s my oldest child created this mantra for our family ski trips so that no one would forget anything:

“Skis, boots, poles,
hat, jacket, gloves,
scarf, goggles, money.”

Now that I am in my 70’s my mantra now goes like this:

“Skis, boots, poles,
helmet, jacket, gloves,
pills, CPAP, gin.”

This week four of my over-70 friends and I went for a ski trip which is how this mantra change occurred. (Full disclosure: the other four actually skied) Between the five of us we have about a dozen diagnoses: overweight (4), arthritis (3), sleep apnea (2), neuropathy (1), hip replacements (2 hips, 1 guy), reduced hearing (1), back surgery (2), colon cancer (1), diverticulitis (1), hypertension (2), chronic lung disease (1) and…oh yeh… multiple myeloma (1). Those are our physical diagnoses. I am fairly certain that none of our personality quirks meet enough criteria for a mental diagnosis in the DSM-5.

Of us five, one is taking no pills and one is taking 30 a day. The others are taking from 3 to 6 pills daily, so excluding the two outliers we averaged 4 daily pills per person. Different surveys over the years have indicated a variety of average daily pills taken by senior citizens:

1992 –  15 prescription pills per day per senior citizen (USHHS Department)
1992  – 19.6 prescription pills per day per senior citizen (PRIME Institute)
2000 –  28.5 prescription pills per day per senior citizen (PRIME Institute)
2010  – 51% of seniors took at least 5 prescription pills per day
.             25% of seniors take 10 to 19 prescription pills daily (Epill)

In 1986 pharmaceutical companies began advertising drugs directly to consumers. Such ads were required by the FDA to list all significant side effects, but could not include the drug’s name. The very first ad was for Seldane, an anti-allergy medicine, which was identified in the ad only as “a medicine that didn’t make you drowsy. Ask your doctor about it.”. The company hoped to boost Seldane sales from $34 million annually to $100 million. By the time the dust settled, Seldane sales eventually topped out at $800 million annually. “Pharmaceutical companies took note” would be the understatement of that year.

In 1997, the FDA rules governing pharmaceutical advertising changed, and companies could name both the drug and what it’s for, while only naming the most significant potential side effects. The number of ads really exploded. In 2009 The Nielsen Co. reported an average of 80 drug ads per hour every day on American television.

“Something like a third of consumers who’ve seen a drug ad have talked to their doctor about it,” says Julie Donohue, a professor of public health at the University of Pittsburgh who is considered a leading expert on this subject.”About two-thirds of those have asked for a prescription. And the majority of people who ask for a prescription have that request honored.” (1)

Our mantra continues:
“Hey, Doc,
Forget the Mediterranean Diet.
I’m an American.
Give me a pill.”

1. NPR, Joe Davis,  by Alix Spiegel, 2009.

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