More than half of insured Americans are taking prescription medicines regularly for chronic health problems, according to a new study by a national firm that manages prescription benefits for about 20 percent of Americans.
This statistic can be viewed a number of ways. This record use of prescription medication is clearly linked to increases in chronic conditions such as diabetes or heart disease due to higher obesity rates. Some chronic conditions such as hypertension or acid reflux respond favorably to weight loss. It is far less work, however, to take a pill to lower blood pressure or control gastroesophageal reflux disease than to adhere to a healthy diet and exercise regimen.
On the other hand, there are now better pharmaceuticals for chronic conditions such as high cholesterol or hypertension. Managing those conditions can help prevent more serious health issues, which is positive.
Experts were divided on the study. The numbers obviously are a reflection of the nation's poor public health. They also reflect aggressive marketing on the part of pharmaceutical companies. Not only do these ads present solutions to sufferers, some instruct patients how to talk to their physicians about delicate subjects.
But the increased use of some pharmaceuticals needs to be viewed in a positive light. Researchers have developed drugs that render some diseases that used to be considered fatal into chronic conditions, such as some cancers, hemophilia and sickle-cell disease.
However, some of the increase in prescription drug use is due to a surge in children's use of medicine for weight-related illnesses and chronic illnesses that previously were considered "adult" diseases, such as Type 2 diabetes, sleeping troubles or gastrointestinal problems such as heartburn.
Somehow, health-care providers need to invest more energy in helping patients lose weight and make other lifestyle changes before writing prescriptions. Likewise, patients need to heed their doctors' advice regarding personal habits, diet and exercise. Ultimately, patients are responsible for their own health.