PRESCRIPTIONDRUGSDANIELLEGARDNERSTMFILEPHOTO

Should we really be taking so many prescription drugs?

The Chicago Tribune started last week a troubling series of stories, photos, graphics and videos on the problem of serious — and undetected — interactions between prescription drugs.

(Don’t miss this particularly scary story. Wow.)

One statistic from the opening story really jumped out at me. Here it is:

  • “One in 5 Americans take three or more drugs. One in 10 people take five or more — twice the percentage as in 1994.”

Would you look at the number of prescription drugs we as a country are taking! That’s astounding to me, and it should be to you, too.

Notice too, that the one in 10 stat is twice the percentage it was in 1994.

Do you really believe that in 22 years we’ve all become that much sicker? I don’t. I think that too many doctors are willing to immediately prescribe a medication as the first line of defense against any ailment.

We, the consumers, play a role in this. (I’ll get back to the medical professionals in a bit.) Something aches or doesn’t feel right, we go to the doctor and start pushing for a prescription. Or, we head to our nearby drug store — something fairly easy, since they are everywhere — and start stocking up on over-the-counter medications. We think that’s the only answer.

Very often it is not. For just about any ailment there is a non-drug remedy out there.

(My Dad used to rely on the treatments he learned from the abuelas (grandmothers) in his neighborhood. Olive oil, garlic and a host of other non-drugs played a role. Don’t laugh; the man lived til 84 and until he was hit by cancer the last couple years of his life, never took any medication, so he must have been doing something right.) 

We need to start going to those non-drug  treatments first, instead of popping yet another pill. Every cold does not have to be treated with an onslaught of OTC drugs. Was it really that long ago that we knew that lots of liquids, bed rest and time were the answer to a cold?

As we get older, we just assume that we will have to be taking medication. No! If you ask me, we need to do all those things that are the hallmarks of good health — stop smoking, lose weight (even 10 percent can bring dramatic improvements), stop drinking too much, get some exercise, eat well — and really work at those behaviors before embarking on years of taking a prescription drug or two. Or three!

Now back to the doctors and other medical professionals. They certainly play a crucial role. They aren’t willing to say no to patients. Some of them are pretty good at pushing prescriptions on patients, instead of trying alternative measures first. Could some of them, too, be reaping the benefits of all the money we spend on prescription drugs? Americans shelled out $374 billion for meds in 2014, according to a Time.com article.

What do you think?

FILE PHOTO: Danielle Gardner~Sun-Times Media