Soaring prescription drug use overlooks the benefits

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There s more and more beneficial and lifesaving drugs on the market, so it should be no surprise that more Americans are taking them. But a New York Times article on a study the National Center for Health Statistics released six weeks ago sensationalizes and misrepresents the data. The study found that 48.3 percent of Americans used at least one drug in 2007- 08, compared to 43.5 percent in 1999- 00. The percentage of Americans taking five or more drugs rose to 10.7 percent from 6.3 percent in the same timeframe. We wouldn t exactly call these rates soaring, but the Times headline does. Further, reporter Nicholas Bakalar gets his facts wrong: as the graph accompanying the story clearly indicates, the CDC researchers said that more than one-third of Americans aged 60 of Americans and over are taking five or more drugs not two-thirds, as Bakalar states.

The study also showed 22 percent of children under 12 and 33 percent of teenagers were prescribed at least one pharmaceutical mainly asthma and ADHD prescriptions, respectively. Bakalar quotes Dr. Quiping Gu as saying, People may be taking too many drugs that s a big concern in the older age groups.

ACSH s Dr. Elizabeth Whelan says the article neglected to mention the positive impact pharmaceuticals have had on public health. What about the benefits of drug treatment? she asks. They re helping to keep patients out of the hospitals. This is horrible journalism. If I were to write the article s lede, I would say, Although there is obvious misuse of certain drugs, the reality is that most drugs are keeping us alive, healthier and sometimes happier, longer.

While some people are being overmedicated, others are being undertreated. If you look at the ten most-selling drugs, they are medications that prevent and treat serious disease, adds ACSH s Dr. Josh Bloom. Clearly, it s better for kids under 12 to take their asthma medication as a prophylactic therapy rather than treat acute asthma attacks, and statins have clearly been key to reducing the incidence of coronary heart disease. Increased drug use can be seen as a sign of medical progress, perhaps most dramatically illustrated with modern AIDS treatments. It s too bad when journalists take the easy path and slam drug makers and doctors without consideration of the beneficial effects of new therapies.