Medications can be beneficial and safe lives; however, some may not work as well as promised. In some cases, they may do more harm than good as illustrated by the following examples.
- There is weak or no evidence of effectiveness for the long term use of any opiod (morphine, fentanyl, oxycodone, methadone and hydrocodone) in the treatment of chronic pain (Perlin, 2015). As the Center for Disease Control and Prevention reports, “Since 1999, the amount of prescription painkillers prescribed and sold in the U.S. has nearly quadrupled, yet there has not been an overall change in the amount of pain that Americans report. Over prescribing leads to more abuse and more overdose deaths.” More than 16,000 people a year die from prescription drug overdose (CDC, 2016). For a superb discussion of the treatment of chronic pain, see the recently published book by Cindy Perlin, The truth about chronic pain treatments.
- Selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitor such as Paxil and Prozac (SSRI) are much less effective than promised by pharmaceutical companies. When independent researchers (not funded by pharmaceutical companies) re-analyzed the data from published and unpublished the studies, they found that the medication was no more effective than the placebo for the treatment of mild and moderate depression (Ioannidis, 2008; Le Noury et al, 2015). In addition, the SSRIs (paroxetine and Imipramine) in treatment of unipolar major depression in adolescence may cause significant harm which outweigh any possible benefits (Le Le Noury et al., 2015). On the other had, exercise appears as effective as antidepressants for reducing symptoms of mild to moderate depression (Cooney et al., 2013). Despite the questionable benefits of SSRI medications, pharmaceutic industry to posted $11.9 billion dollars in 2011 global sales (Perlin, 2015).
- Why are you prescribing the medication?
- What are the risks and negative side effects?
- Do the benefits outweigh the risks?
- How do I know when the medication is working?
- What will you do if the medication does not work?
- How many patients do you need to treat before one patient benefits?
- Can you recommend non-pharmaceutical options?
The important questions to ask are:
- How many patients need to be treated with the medication before one patient benefits?
- How many will experience negative side effects?
The data can be discouraging. As Daniel Levitin, neuroscientist at McGill University in Montreal and Dean at Minerva Schools in San Francisco, points out, it takes 300 people to take statins for one year before one heart attack, stroke or other serious event is prevented. However, 5% of all the people taken statins (the of drug of choice to lower cholesterol) will experience debilitating adverse effects such as severe muscle pain and gastrointestinal disorders. This means that you are 15 times more likely to suffer serious side effect than being helped by the drug. Nevertheless, the CDC reported that during 2011–2012, more than one-quarter (27.9%) of adults aged 40 and over used a prescription cholesterol-lowering medication (statins) (Gu, 2014).
Before making any medical decision when stressed, watch the superb 2015 TED London presentation by neuroscientist Daniel Levitin, How to think about making a decision under stress.
CDC Center for Disease Control and Prevention (2016). Injury prevention & control: Prescription drug overdose. http://www.cdc.gov/drugoverdose/
Cooney, G.M., Dwan, K., Greig, C.A., Lawlor, D.A, Rimer, J., Waugh, F.R., McMurdo, M., & Mead, G. E.(2013). Exercise for depression. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2013, Issue 9. Art. No.: CD004366. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD004366.pub6.The Cochrane Library. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/14651858.CD004366.pub6/epdf
Goter, R. & Peper, E. (2011). Fighting cancer: A nontoxic approach to treatment. Berkeley, CA: Noreth Atlantic Books.http://www.amazon.com/Fighting-Cancer-Nontoxic-Approach-Treatment/dp/1583942483/ref=sr_1_2_twi_pap_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1452715134&sr=8-2&keywords=gorter+and+peper
Gu, Q., Paulose-Ram, R., Burt, V.L., & Kit, B.K. (2014).Prescription Cholesterol-Lowering Medication Use in Adults Aged 40 and Over: United States, 2003–2012. NCHS Data Brief No. 177. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention National Center for Health Statistics.http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/databriefs/db177.pdf
Ioannidis, J. P. (2008). Effectiveness of antidepressants: an evidence myth constructed from a thousand randomized trials?. Philosophy, Ethics, and Humanities in Medicine, 3(1), 14. http://peh-med.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1747-5341-3-14
Le Noury, J., Nardo, J. M., Healy, D., Jureidini, J., Raven, M., Tufanaru, C., & Abi-Jaoude, E. (2015). Restoring Study 329: efficacy and harms of paroxetine and imipramine in treatment of major depression in adolescence. http://www.bmj.com/content/351/bmj.h4320.full
Levitin, D. (2015). How to stay calm when you know you’ be stressed. TEDGlobal London Talk http://www.ted.com/talks/daniel_levitin_how_to_stay_calm_when_you_know_you_ll_be_stressed
Perlin, C. (2015). The truth about chronic pain treatments. Delmar, NY: Morning Light Books, LLC. http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0160UEQB2/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?ie=UTF8&btkr=1
Robin, E.D. (1984). Matters of life & death: Risks vs. benefits of medical care. New York: W.H. Freeman and Company. http://www.amazon.com/Matters-Life-Death-Benefits-Medical/dp/071671681X/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=