Ask The Pharmacist: A pill for every ill? Not so fast ...

Q: I read you in my local newspaper and find your columns very interesting and refreshing in a sea of misinformation about drugs and supplements. I know you are a pharmacist, but sometimes I think you’re anti-medicine. Suzy is that true? — J.E. Gainesville, Florida

A: No, it’s not. I’m anti “over-medicating.” I do “think outside the pill” and I feel strongly that many chronic diseases can be improved by addressing underlying deficiencies of vitamins, minerals, enzymes and hormones. But thinking outside the pill in an emergency situation can be dangerous, and so I pride myself on being sensible rather than stupid.

The United States healthcare industry is just that, an “industry.” In fact, according to a recent Reuters article, U.S. healthcare spending jumped to $2.2 trillion in 2007; according to a New York Times article, we spent $227.5 billion of that on prescription medications. Just mind-boggling!

I recently went to a pharmacy that was tightly wedged between a fast food restaurant, a coffee house, and an ice cream parlor — a brilliant location choice by the pharmacy owners! Why? Because you can get your trans fat-laden burger and go straight to the pharmacy to get Lipitor for cholesterol. They both have drive-throughs so you won’t burn a single calorie. Less than a block away, go to the coffee shop and get your double-shot mocha latte and then swing through the pharmacy to get your Xanax and Norvasc to suppress the jitters and control blood pressure.

Why stop there — go to the ice cream parlor and get a hot fudge sundae (it contains about 50 grams of carbs) and come back to the pharmacy to get your Glucophage to reduce blood sugar. Get some antacids while you’re at it. When the boss asks where you’ve been for three hours, just tell him you went to pick up your prescriptions!

Is it just me, or do you also believe that our lifestyle choices and dietary habits put us on a medication merry-go-round? Americans have the mindset that a pill will fix every single ill. Wrong, dead wrong in some cases. Many popular drugs just mask symptoms or cause serious side effects. Here are some groups of people for whom medication is essential and/or life-saving:

- Asthmatics who need breathing inhalers.

- People with life-threatening allergies who need an Epi-pen.

- People hurting with chronic or acute pain.

- Anyone with neuropathy or phantom pain.

- People with narcolepsy who need stimulants.

- Epileptics who need anti-seizure medicine.

- People with heartbeat irregularities or angina.

- People prone to anxiety before MRIs, dental procedures or surgery.

The list goes on because some medications are simply invaluable. But what bothers me is the indiscriminate prescribing of drugs to people who could improve their health naturally.

Did you know?

That antibiotics may be helpful in preventing Lyme disease if you take them shortly after a tick bite.

Suzy Cohen is a registered pharmacist. This information is not intended to treat, cure or diagnose your condition. Always consult your physician.

© 2009 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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