Overmedication is the misuse or prescription of medication in situations where less medication would be more beneficial to the patient.
Root causes of overmedication:
Overmedication is not a mechanical problem that can be easily corrected by new guidelines or procedures alone. It is a chronic problem which exists within both a cultural and economic framework. The cultural framework for overmedication is that in American society, people often want a "quick fix". The economic cause of overmedication is that prescription drugs generate huge profits, whereas most non-drug approaches (such as diet, exercise, rest, and some "alternative therapies") either generate no profit or very low ones. The profit motive introduces a huge incentive for the pharmaceutical industry to shape the culture surrounding medicine as much as possible, mainly through advertising.
Doctors and other healthcare professionals are inundated with promotional materials for various prescription medications. Even when doctors think they are doing a good job of sorting through or filtering out this material, the fact is that they are exposed to a lot of material about the latest prescription medications, whereas they are exposed to much less about nutrition, movement-based therapies, herbal therapies, lifestyle-change treatments, or alternative therapies.
Patients also become part of the problem to the degree to which they become sucked into the culture that looks to drugs for the answers. Patients can often pressure their doctor to prescribe something, which can result in a doctor reluctantly prescribing a medication when in that gray area where they are waffling between prescribing or not prescribing a drug, even in cases where they may be leaning against the choice of prescribing drugs.
Common conditions that are overmedicated or improperly medicated:
- Hypertension or High blood Pressure - This widespread and potentially dangerous condition can be treated naturally in most people. You can read some of my tips on lowering blood pressure naturally.
- Anxiety and chronic stress - There is no evidence that any prescription drugs can provide any long-term relief for anxiety. The best medications provide only short-term relief, and are not suitable for regular or long-term use. Fortunately, there are numerous long-term solutions to anxiety; I also have an extensive page about natural remedies and treatments for anxiety
- Viral infections - Viral infections, such as cold and flu, cannot be treated by antibiotics. Many of them cannot be treated by any medications.
Preventing and stopping overmedication:
There are numerous ways in which one can combat the problem of overmedication, both in terms of your own personal choices, and policy decisions.
Personal approaches to preventing overmedication:
- Take medication only when absolutely necessary. - Make this your philosophy and embrace it wholeheartedly.
- Be assertive with doctors and healthcare professionals - Let your doctor know that you embrace a philosophy of minimizing medication. Whenever you are prescribed a medication, ask the simple question: "Is this absolutely necessary?" If the answer is "no" then ask about alternatives, and if the alternatives are things you can live with, then take them. There are some cases where prescription medication is truly necessary to save lives or prevent permanent damage to health. By only taking medication in these cases, you not only protect your own health (by avoiding side-effects and other negative health impacts of medication) but you also help to keep healthcare costs down for everyone.
- Nip hypochondria in the bud - Hypochondria, or irrational fear of having a serious illness when none is present, can cause people to take unnecessary medications. Stress and psychological discord can result in real physical symptoms, even when there is no underlying medical problem. By lowering your general stress and anxiety level, and by working through your own personal fears about your health, either alone, with friends or family, or with a counselor, you can reduce your risk of being overmedicated due to psychosomatic conditions (physical symptoms caused solely by psychological distress).
- Become educated about drug-free treatments.
Policy approaches to preventing overmedication:
- Ban advertising of prescription drugs - I support a ban on all prescription drug advertisement. I believe that all decisions about the appropriateness of prescription drugs is best left to the independent research of healthcare professionals and patients. Advertisement serves to just cloud the judgment of both doctors and patients, and it does so by introducing a bias towards overmedication. Removing this bias will reduce healthcare costs by reducing unnecessary spending on drugs.
- Design malpractice laws so as to discourage overmedication - Poorly-designed state law can result in the scenario whereby a doctor prescribes medication to "cover" themselves legally, with the idea that if the medication turned out to be necessary they could be sued. If the laws were designed so that lawsuits were easier in the cases in which medication were wrongly prescribed, and so that it was more difficult to sue doctors for choosing not to prescribe medication, this source of bias would be eliminated. Again, this would result in less total prescription, keeping costs down, and it would mostly cut out the most unnecessary uses of medication.
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