Thursday, July 9, 2009

Pharmaceutical Education: Who's Responsible? Who's Accountable?

Drug education is a deep and seemingly unexplored topic. No, we're not talking about Nancy Reagan's "Just Say No" program. We're talking about responsible pharmaceutical education.  We're not here to point a finger or cast blame, but we are realistic in reviewing how our society arrived in a place where we have been faced with many unnecessary and irresponsible pharmaceutical-related tragedies.

Many people know more about their TV's, iPods and computers than their prescriptions.

Let's face it, Americans are largely trusting people. We trust "Consumer Reports". We trust our teachers. We even trust our news sources.  So when it comes to our health, it's no surprise that many believe that if "the doctor prescribed it, it's gotta be safe and OK". But doctors only know what they are told, and are unable to determine the level of safety to maintain a high standard of practice unless full disclosure has been given by the patient. Omission of fact is not always intentional, as some patients forget to mention a new drug that was prescribed by a different doctor. On the other hand, some patients use fictitious names just to get their hands on more drugs. And some doctors are afraid to say "no" to patients, especially those who are high profile, because they will be fired. Sadly, they sometimes cave in rather than stand their ground and walk away.

Many high profile people live in a relatively cloistered world, meaning they rely largely on handlers for treatment and information. But so does everyone else. Think about it. Our contact person is the treating doctor. The information we receive is only as good as was given to the doctor by the pharmaceutical rep. Many times the doctor doesn't fully understand the drug, it's best and most appropriate use and it's side effects, as they only spend 5-15 minutes with their pharmaceutical rep. The rep leaves samples and some literature, pens, pads and refrigerator magnets and they're on their way to the next office. So if the doctor isn't educated properly, how can we expect their patients to be fully knowledgeable?  The PDR (Physicians Desk Reference) is not updated as frequently as drugs are approved, so where will they find the information they need?

Signing off on the clipboard page at the drug store that you've read the information isn't "education". And in many cases, runners are sent to pick the prescriptions up, so the patient never sees the page anyway. You don't have to be 'high profile' to fit this scenario -- this is the world we live in.

In any event, these scenarios just make everyone look bad --- doctors, medical health practitioners, pharmaceutical companies, drug stores and patients --- and sets everyone up for tragic and unnecessary failures.

President Obama claims he is looking for education and health care programs.  Well, HERE'S A GOLDEN OPPORTUNITY!  

The multi-billion dollar pharmaceutical industry certainly has the resources to be held to a high standard of accountability for it's products.  They arrange for slick, catchy multi-million dollar ad campaigns to get us interested, but not educated --- and running an incomplete list of side effects on a sped-up voiceover during a television commercial is not considered "education". 

We'd like to see them put their money to sensible and viable use FOR the safety of our people, and not just hook them in to 'ask the doctor about the flavor-of-the-moment-recently-released pill' that won't cure anything, but WILL produce side effects so that you'll ask for more drugs to ease the new set of side effects. There's your vicious cycle.  

What they don't tell you:  Drugs are designed to treat symptoms, not cure disease.  

People read tabloid stories and wonder how "those people" can take so many drugs and why the toxicology reports are long in high profile cases.  Truth is, "those people" are your relatives and neighbors -- this happens all day long to people who you may know, but the high profile and tragic cases get the big press coverage.  And even then, it's spun to make them all look like "drug addicts" in the most negative and irresponsible sense and no one is held accountable. The press may turn the tragedy into a witch hunt, when we really need to look to the source (pharmaceutical companies) for a viable solution.

The average 40 year old takes 8 different prescription drugs per day.  

This is astonishing! But it's easy to see how that happens -- Maybe you know someone who was injured and was prescribed pain killers. Years after the injury has healed, they still take pain killers. You even may know someone who became ill and was prescribed drugs to treat the symptoms. Years later, those symptoms may have changed and there are 4 or 5 other symptoms added to the mix -- and more prescriptions were filled.  And then the body becomes more toxic and weakened. More drugs are prescribed.  You get the picture. It happens all day long in America.  

There are efficacious drugs that help relieve symptoms so the body is better able to restore itself. That said, we are a country that has become over-prescribed and under-educated.

Bottom line:

Pharmaceutical Education needs to be addressed and implemented. Pharmaceutical companies need to be involved in the process.

What you can do for yourself:

We all have stress in our lives -- be it emotional, physical, mental, a combination -- stress factors are part of our world.  It's up to each of us to develop coping skills rather than running to the doctor for some 'magic bullet' that is designed to treat symptoms, but may add to the stress level and toxic burden on the system and not fix the problem.  Seriously.  Each of us needs to take responsibility for our own well being.  Learning and instilling good basic lifestyle choices is an excellent start.


Drugs are here to stay. The way we relate to them needs to change.  Feel free to address Dr Margaret Hamburg, Commissioner, FDA and President Obama to consider Pharmaceutical Education regarding this issue.           


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