Are We Over Prescribing Drugs?
“Most people..still want pills.”
That question was asked in a recent survey by the company Poll Position. In a poll conducted among 1,168 adults on 11/22; 52% said “yes.” There was a larger affirmative answer from African Americans at 59%. There was not much difference between men and women at 53% and 51%. This majority response may add fuel to the fire that drug company marketing is driving use of drugs beyond what is really needed.
There are many critics who blast drug companies for creating demand among consumers for prescription solutions for all their problems. Particular criticism has been for depression and anxiety medications, where about 20% of the population is being treated with SSRIs. Advertising has raised awareness of depression and social anxiety. Proponents of the drugs say we have vastly undertreated these illnesses and ads have made people much less embarrassed to seek treatment.
I can accept that many borderline cases receive pills. I can also accept that people are receiving pills that do not need them at all. Critics argue that people are too quick to ask for pills for many things that they used to accept without treatment. This survey seems to suggest that consumers agree. The issues here are important to debate and objectively measure.
If five people take SSRIs who really do not need them for the one who is really depressed, is that a bad thing? If 100 people take statins to prevent one fatal heart attack, is that good? The issues are not simple since we do risk side effects from taking prescription drugs. There is added cost to our medical care by taking pills. One could argue we are over-medicated, or one could argue that the cost of over treatment prevents serious diseases from occurring which cost more to treat later.
These are both cost and ethical questions. Our government and employer-funded healthcare needs to find ways to use medications more effectively. I welcome comparative effectiveness research and supporting drugs that are most cost effective. Drug companies should succeed or fail based on their delivery of added value drugs. Ultimately, whether drugs are over used will be determined by physicians, patients, and payers.
This high number of survey respondents who say we are over using drugs is alarming. This indicates there will be widespread support for more government and private payer research into ensuring more expensive drugs are actually more effective. There will also be an increase in desire to find natural alternatives to drug treatment.
On the other hand, just because people say we take too many pills does not mean these same people will not take or prefer them over alternatives. Somehow I doubt most obese people would not prefer a pill to lose 20 pounds versus vigorous diet and exercise. The reality is most people, especially aging baby boomers, still want pills for most of their health problems.
What this survey does show is that Congress and other public policy organizations has a platform to continue to blast drug companies for marketing their pills.
Bob Ehrlich, Chairman
DTC Perspectives, Inc