Side Effects: A Cultural Shell Game?

According to a FDA study, 100,000 people die annually in the US from drugs that are properly prescribed and taken as directed. The third leading cause of death in this country after heart disease and cancer is undergoing a medical procedure. So why do we keep buying these drugs–and buying into elective medical procedures in growing numbers?

We seem to be caught up in a shell game: you know, where the carnival huckster does something flamboyant with the left hand so that his audience misses what he is hiding with his right one. That’s the kind of sleight of hand in pharmaceutical ads, according to Melody Petersen, author of Our Daily Meds. Such ads depict a “Disneyland” atmosphere in which an arthritic person (or an unhappy or an incontinent one) transforms before our eyes into a tango-dancer as a result of swallowing a pill.

With their attention diverted to the magic, viewers ignore the voice-over that hastens through the list of side effects that include “in rare cases, death”. A study co-sponsored by the FDA found that nearly 50 million people responded to pharmaceutical ads by requesting the named drug from their physician.

This selling technique not only works, but works spectacularly–and as a result large pharmaceutical companies have recently shifted their major investment from research to marketing. Today almost 65 per cent of the US population is taking physician-prescribed drugs.I’m sure that the 470 who committed suicide after taking a drug for urinary incontinence might have thought twice about swallowing it had they been told in a more sober atmosphere that the side effects of this drug included severe anxiety, depression and mental disorientation.

A number of modern drugs, including the ones implicated in the suicides, mimic Alzheimer’s-like symptoms. Petersen notes that thirty per cent of those recently diagnosed with Alzheimer’s were taking drugs that were likely responsible for their symptoms. However, instead of stopping these drugs, their doctors characteristically give them others.

If drugs cause a problem, it’s because we haven’t taken enough of them?

If we want to become those happy people depicted in the drug commercials, we’ve got to risk a dollop of death as a side effect?

Evidently we’re supposed to swallow this line along with our drugs and risk our death—or someone else’s–in the process. This is not only the kind of thinking that sells us drugs; it’s also the kind of thinking that sold us the war in Iraq. In fact it’s the kind of thinking that has gotten industrialized countries into similar problems all over the globe, as Naomi Klein points out in her book on “disaster capitalism”. A disaster is an excellent distraction: a perfect way to get people to accept what they wouldn’t normally accept.

President Bush played this game when he used the grief and fear generated by the September attacks to justify his war. One side effect– “collateral damage” it’s called when it happens in war– is the somewhere between ninety thousand and one million civilian casualties. A pretty broad range, but we don’t keep good data on side effects. We do know, however, that the tally of the dead from this war has surpassed the number of those who died under Hussein.

Like “friendly fire”, the Bush administration tells us we must accept such “collateral damage”. We only swallowed the bitter war pill because our eyes were fixed on vaporous “weapons of mass destruction” (a carnival trick if ever there was one). Absent that, we might have considered whether bombing their children would convince anyone to follow our way of life.

Meanwhile, there was money to be made by the contractors who sold substandard supplies to outfit our soldiers at exorbitant rates– including contractors related to the business interests of our current vice-president. But we weren’t looking at that. In fact, we still aren’t. Even though we now know George Bush was well aware there were never any weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, he is still president and Cheney is still vice-president.

TV networks such as Fox who helped engineer the shell game in this instance are implicated in this tragedy. But much as I’d like to blame them– and in spite of their cynical agreement with their advertisers not to show body bags (it seems it dampens the urge to buy things), I can’t make them wholly responsible.

If our cultural tendencies didn’t prime us for the shell game, we wouldn’t be taken in by it. But it’s the way we’ve been thinking since we “settled” this country and used the rubric of Manifest Destiny to “civilize” indigenous people by devastating them– a bit of a side effect that might have caused us to re-evaluate our actions had we focused our attention in that direction.

We are no longer living in those times, but we ought to learn something from history. What we ignore in the shell game doesn’t go away–its costs just surprise us when they come due.

We are still holding on to ideological bulldozers– and technological ones. We bulldoze our landscape to “develop” it, neglecting side effects on storm water systems, soil quality, fire and slide dangers and aesthetics—not to mention habitat loss for uncounted species. The price of one such side effect is $250,000 per tree cut down in the process. That is the recent Forest Service valuation of the ecosystem services of a standard urban tree during its life cycle.

I can’t imagine what the price would be for pesticide to spray a residential lawn if we counted the side effects involved. Some of those can’t be priced, like the autism resulting from exposure to chemically fixed pyrethrum. This side effect isn’t very surprising. The drug is, after all, a nerve toxin–and one specifically engineered to persist in the environment, unlike its botanical counterpart. Mercury still used as preservative in certain vaccines is also a neural toxin: but is only now coming into public disrepute for its own connection to our rising autism rates.

We saw only vanished insects and vanquished disease as we went “full steam ahead”, but our children pay the price for this negligence.

There is a tale from ancient India that relates how a do-gooder, in his single-minded attempt to control an inconvenience in nature, creates a drought that empties the entire world of water.

Modern Westerners still haven’t learned the lesson in this tale. We might mean to do well: to alleviate suffering or terrorism—or weeds and fleas. (Eliminating other peoples is something else again). But if we look for quick fixes, ignoring the complex results of our actions, we might as well hand over our money and our lives to the hucksters now and eliminate the suspense as to how things will turn out.

You are always welcome to link to this post. Note, however, it is copyright 2008, by Madronna Holden, and if you wish to copy it, please email for permission. Thanks.

211 Responses

  1. Your analogy, Professor, of the carnival trick is well fitted to this discussion. I’m not sure I agree with you about Bush, but you make a good argument.

    It is a good point you make about pharmaceutical companies switching from research to marketing. It is amazing to me how many advertisements are for drugs. It’s like we’ve become so bogged down just living life we need a pill of some kind to fix it. In the past, however, I’ve been very thankful for these drugs…in surgery and for seizures. I don’t think we can ignore our need for life saving drugs, but I don’t think we should look for answers there. Also, recognizing that drugs (aside from synthetic which mimic natural drugs) come from plants which are oftentimes in locations where their extraction has a significant impact on local communities.

    Indigenous cultures have been aware of the medicinal uses of these plants for thousands of years. But those drug extracts, I THINK, are taken with respect due to trial and error (oops!) and because a great deal of energy and knowledge is required in the process.

    I would also be willing to testify to the fact that vaccines aren’t perfect. I spent 3 years in the library and 8 years total researching vaccines. I believe it was China who many years ago banned vaccines until they were made safer, but I think it was 1995 when the US revamped their DPT. And Autism isn’t the only effect, Lennox Gastaut is another and is usually fatal.

    I’m curious…what is the botanical counterpart to pyrethrum?

    • Hi Tina, thanks once again for your very thoughtful responses and great info to fill out what is in this article. Pyrethurm comes from chrysanthemums. As spelled, this is the botanical extract: as a chemical with a fixative added to prevent degrading, it is sometimes spelled the same and sometimes spelled as some variation of pyretherem.

    • The wider point about side effects is well taken. Pharmaceutical corporations are continually making slightly new molecules that don’t work better than the medicines we had before, but since the old ones’ patents have expired they need a new one to sell at a higher price, even if the new one has worse side effects than the old one.

      On the vaccine issue, however, I have to disagree. It’s been shown since this article was posted that the only study to show a tie between vaccines and autism was a fraud. The tiny risk of side effects of vaccines is far outweighed by the risk of death from the diseases vaccines protect against.

      It’s maddening that we don’t know the cause of autism and its explosive rate of increase over the past few decades. It likely is caused by an environmental contaminant, and I hope we figure out what it is soon, ban it and see a decline. But new parents should vaccinate their children, because the studies have been done on vaccine safety and there is no link between them and autism.

      • Actually, the link between vaccine and autism has not been proven as a “fraud” when one studies the effects of mercury preservatives in particular vaccines on the nervous system of developing children. I would not recommend parents avoid vaccines, but that pregnant women avoid mercury-preserved vaccines and parents avoid giving these to young children. Since we can easily preserve these vaccines without mercury, there seems to be no excuse for continuing to use mercury.
        As you point out, vaccines are health boons– but they are also not one hundred per cent safe, depending on their formulation. For instance, though live polio vaccine was easier for parents to administer (it could be given on a sugar cube), it caused a number of polio cases– a small number, but meaningful enough to those who lives were changed by this. Dead polio vaccine had to be administered with a shot, but was entirely free (as far as I know) of this terrible side effect.
        It seems that we have a new candidate for the potential cause of the fact that Oregon has the second highest rate of rising autism in the nation: herbicide use on national forests- not only 2-4-D (as in “weed and feed”), but in atrazine. The troubling links between endocrine system breakdowns (in terms of system communication) and atrazine– and perhaps Round Up as well has caused the EU to suspend the use of atrazine (see the Do Not Buy List here).
        Time to put — as another commentator here put it– health above money and make a choice that we will not accept such side effects.
        Thanks for the comment to enable me to clarify the latest data on the vaccine issue.

        • This worries me because I know when I was a teenager growing up in Florida, we had this out break of fruit fly that attacked orange trees. It was this big deal because it was doing a lot of economic damage. So they started to spray huge areas with this insecticide that to this day I don’t know what it was. Anyway, on the days they sprayed there was an advisory to stay in your home. I remember seeing the planes flying over head all day. How much of that spray got in the water supply or in our home through the air conditioning? What amount was I exposed to and how will that affect me later? We rely on chemicals to be our savior from all things that seek to “attack” us.

        • Indeed, Lindsay, and as your example indicates, we wind up attacking our own health — and in this case, that of our children as well– not to mention causing considerable anxiety no matter what the health outcomes. I am sorry that this happened to you.

  2. Agreed, on all points!

    Modern medicine is not being governed the way it should. The fact that pharmacutical companies are allowed to release these drugs without any long-term testing is atrocious! Or even the drugs that HAVE been tested, but have terrible side effects. I understand that a lot of these drugs help people, but have we all stopped to consider the reason we are all so sick? I’ve read over and over in books, like the China Study, that say that the things we eat, and the drugs we take, and the lives we live are really what is killing us. The plastic bottles we use and use until the plastic is leaching into our systems; or the fruit and vegitables that are covered in pestasides, which research seems to be pointing to serious medical complications. When it comes to something like medicine, where we’re trusting the words of our doctors to save us, there should be more reason to trust. We shouldn’t have to worry that our health could be at risk so that some company could make a profit off of the FDA’s imbicilic oversight.

    • Thoughtful perspective, Jonas. It seems that making a profit (as in big pharmaceuticals’ motive) are in direct contradiction to human health. Speaking of the FDA, they just ended an open comment period for public input on how to stop what it terms EMA or “Economically Motivated Adulteration” of products intended for human consumption.

      • I’m very curious on the results of that, especially since I hadn’t heard that that had occured. There are so many things that the FDA has been doing wrong, and in the wrong interests. It reminds me of thier refusal to make a decision on Plan B, which got a lot of news time recently from the lawsuit that was finally filed. I am really looking forward to the new administration’s aproach on how to handle the FDA. I don’t think it should exist if it’s heart isn’t in OUR protection.

        • This move to stop this practice was a step in the right direction; and if you google the FDA on the point of this practise, you will find a summary of why they think they need to change the policy that hasn’t worked in the past

  3. I believe all prescription drugs need to be re-evaluated as to their effectiveness versus their side affects as well as their possible dependence. I have watched someone I cared deeply about justify taking opiates and benzodiazepine class prescription medicines because they were after all- prescribed by her doctor. What she couldn’t get from her doctor she would purchase from an internet pharmacy. She could never quite overcome her dependence and ended up succumbing to her addiction- leaving behind four young children. Young people are abusing these pills at an alarming rate and we all by now have heard what may have happened to the King of Pop.

    Pain killers are a “quick fix”..It’s ok to feel a little pain- at least then you know you’re alive.

    • I am so sorry to hear about your friend-and her children, Anedra. I do think pharm ads on tv should not be there. Addiction is a wretched modern problem– and just because meds are prescribed by a doctor does not make them any less addicting–perhaps more so, since this gives them the aura of legitimacy –until it is too late. The last thing we need is more conditioning that states we can pop a pill to get an instant fix for our discontents.
      If a little pain lets us know we are alive, a few discontents might motivate us to actually work on changing what ails us!
      There is a legitimate arena for meds, but they really do need to be thoroughly reevaluated, as you indicate.

  4. Unreal. I have to take the media from this article an elaborate on how disheartening this is! For some reason it is okay to have a commercial that shows a man collecting the happiness of women, or many different women, by taking a pill. That is taking someone’s ultimate weakness and natural ability and putting it in the spotlight. When overall a mans “size or endurance” bears slight weight on our future and the health of our loved ones. By the way Viagra was a drug that was made for something else, until they saw the effects it was having on other body parts. This is a sick way of tricking people, just as you spoke of throughout this article. Using gain at the expense of others weakness or loss is immoral. I see far too many people getting away with these sort of tactics. When will we have moral law that is implemented?

  5. I think it is also important to recognize the fad of looking good in America. While beauty is stressed in many areas of the world, we do not see the prevalence of eating disorders and illegal steroid use that we see in the US. Athletes, professional and non alike, strive for perfection at their game. So much so that they are willing to take anabolic steroids to gain an edge. They don’t realize the effects that these substances have on their bodies and minds. A famous professional wrestler had a bad reaction to steroids and murdered his family and committed suicide. Diet pills can be just as dangerous. Men and women obsessed with losing weight will turn to these so-called magic pills and can end up with serious cardio-vascular problems or can even die. Mind you, they do not even have to be exceeding the recommended dosage to kill themselves, all it takes is a bad reaction.

    • Thanks for your comment, Arjun- can we do a bit of defining in terms of “looking good”? How might we develop more appropriate standards of attractiveness– and what aspects of our worldview might we have to change in order to do so?

  6. I have always been so amazed by the advertisements for drugs on t.v. These advertisements for things such as sleeping aids or anxiety can make anyone feel like they have a problem that can be solve by swallowing one pill. It reminds me of a skit that Ellen Degeneres does in her stand up about how these commercials can make the healthiest person feel like they may have a problem.
    In the book “Grandmothers Counsel The World” it talks about taking an antibiotic to cure an infection, but this may make your body more susceptible to another infection. This is just like how you point out all the risks of taking certain drugs, but yet the perceived benefit can somehow outweigh the risks.
    We are so easily fooled by the slide of hand tricks that are played on us daily. I know that I fall prey to the ones that are on food boxes that I buy. Just because it says there is 1/2 the fat compared to another product, I may be more convinced to buy it, although it may have 3 times the calories. It’s depressing to think that companies now spend more money on advertising that they do on research. Because of this, I am going to try to become more aware of the choices I make, and not let advertising affect my decisions as much.

    • I am not only amazed but a bit horrified by the ads for drugs on TV, Kelly. Good point about solving problems by swallowing a pill–and then when the instant gratification doesn’t come to us, we think we have to swallow another and another… This certainly doesn’t teach us anything about the real complexity of things like community– or seeing problems through in real life. Thanks for reminding us all to be more of the choices we make.

  7. This article is saddening. It reminds me of why I am not interested and cannot understand politics. Is what politicians are saying real or the truth? How does their spin affect me and those around me? What are the long term effects of the bills up for election? Yeah, I may get money now, but what will I lose a year from now? The other thought I had towards the end of the article is how medical care is traditionally. So many medical providers are quick to hand you a prescription for something that may or may not help you, rather than them gathering an in depth look at who you are and how you live your life. It’s amazing what simple stress can do to a person! Rather than give a patient drugs for migraines, acid reflux and sleep, why not delve a little further to discover that the patient has anxiety and does them with anti-anxiety meds which would then treat the 3 other ailments. So much money wasted and so much of peoples confidence in themselves and in the “system”.

    • Hi Amy, thanks for your comment. I for one would certainly rather have no drugs and then drugs for specific physical problems than an anti-anxiety med with so many side effects. I don’t think it is all politicians we should blame for the lack of oversight in the big pharm arena– though many succumb to lobbyists. We need to work to vote with our dollars, get all the info we can about our health and our country’s choices, and put the right (uncorrupted) even as we take every chance to cut back on lobbying.
      Of course, some will want to devote more time than others on this, but as citizens we owe it our community to be informed.
      As for “collateral damage” and the like– we need to understand the real meaning behind such words in human terms.

  8. The entire drug system is plain frightening. We don’t know enough about our own body and how chemicals and/or compounds affect the body to even begin to change it. Look at Phen-phen- it was thought to be a miracle drug for fat people (I’m one of the fat people, so I can use that term). How much damage did it cause. I know of people who still suffer damage from taking it. There is no miracle for curing being fat- hormones, situations, medical problems etc- no matter what the excuse is the end result is: something you are doing (or not doing) is making you fat. Find it, stop it and fix the problem. No pill is going change the situation- YOU have to.

    Sorry, got on my soap-box. We just don’t know enough about how drugs affect the body (not to mention the environment in making it) to really just blindly take the medications. Chemicals in the environment is the same- we don’t know how the chemicals are going to affect the environment, us, and our children. How can we blindly use them? Not only that, how can we blindly accept this practice? Only we can change this and time is running out.

    • I agree with you about the frightening aspects of our modern pharmaceutical system, Christy. There is no magic bullet to change the body type nature gave us, though we CAN inadvertently change it through toxins by messing up its homeostatic systems. In the last two years there has been solid research linking the recent epidemic upsurge in diabetes type II to pesticide exposure–and we have also located “obesegens”– environmental toxins which cause some to gain weight by destroying certainly balance mechanisms in the body. These do not effect everyone–and that of course does not get our junk food and fast food and sedentary lifestyles off the hook–in fact a recent study indicated that particular types of fast food had an addictive response in some similar to that of heroin! Time and past time to get back to basics in the food category-and in terms of what we allow in our environment. At the very least we could follow suit with the European Union and forbid the same toxic chemicals they have.

  9. I think that this is my favorite of all of Professor Holden’s essays. (At least, my favorite of the ones I have read so far.) I have been a casualty of the drug companies for as long as I can remember. I had severe OCD as a child, and instead of using proven techniques like cognitive and behavioral therapy, the military shrink just put me on Prozac and called it good. I was seven years old when I was first put on antidepressants. Seven. I can’t even express how upsetting that is to me. At that formative age, I would have been highly receptive to other therapeutic methods. Instead of setting me up for a lifetime of pills, they could have taught me ways to deal with my anxieties without chemically inducing numbness in my body. Later, I was prescribed antidepressants after my parent’s divorce. I had no desire to take them. I did not feel depressed. I was angry, but not depressed in the least. This time, the therapist talked to me for one session before putting me on the drugs. How can any therapist know for certain that drugs are the answer to my alleged depression after knowing me for only one hour? At that point in my life, all I really needed was to talk out my anger, not become numb to it. That was the worst medication that they ever gave me. I was kept awake at night by intense nausea, unlike any I had felt before. After a few months, I took myself off the drug, because I could not bear it any longer. A few months after that, the drug was pulled from the market due to high levels of liver toxicity. To this day I wonder “How many toxins did that drug put in my body?”

    Now, I am not against antidepressants, per se. I just think that there are a lot of people taking them unnecessarily. They are touted as a panacea, when truly they aren’t. I also found it interesting when Professor Holden brought up the problems with medications and Alzheimer’s. For a project at my former institution, I studied music therapy as an alternative therapy for Alzheimer’s patients. While studying this, I learned that many dementia patients are put at an increased risk for death by taking one of the “black box” medications, antipsychotics that are given to these patients. Now, I cannot say what I would do in that situation, but I think that I would want to try alternative therapies before knowingly ingesting something that increased my risk of death so much that the FDA issued a warning about it.

    Lastly, I thought that the way Professor Holden tied the “shell game” idea in with the Iraq war and manifest destiny was brilliant. I wasn’t at all expecting it, and I agreed 100% with everything she wrote. I can’t often say that I agree 100% with anyone.

    PS: I had never heard that $250,000 figure before. I find that sobering. I also identified with the idea that the monetary value of the tree is a construct. The value of that tree to the earth is priceless.

    • I appreciate your personal sharing here, Amanda. These examples are a lesson for all of us. I am very sorry that you should have been subject to such things starting at age seven! That is a tragedy. The redeeming part of all this is that you were able to care for yourself to get yourself off these drugs–and respond with such insight to what happened to you. Thank you for showing us a glimpse of your triumph.

  10. I think that people have given up their power. We no longer trust ourselves to diagnose or cure an illness and have completely given over that power to drug companies, doctors, etc. We no longer trust the earth to care for itself and provide for our needs naturally, so we need to dump toxic chemicals on it to get what we want out of it. We trust our government in telling us what is safe or who we have to go to war with. We have given up our power to stand up for what we instinctively know is true and right and we are suffering for it.

  11. Wow, I was reading this while in our athletic training room and just as I came to the part about the 470 people who committed suicide because of a drug’s side effects, our trainer said, “KT I’ve got your meds.” I’m KT and at that moment I wanted to respond, “Uh, no thanks!” Growing up my family always laughed at the drug ads that spilled out the side effects like they were nothing at the end of the ad. But even though we heard the side effects, we did not take them seriously because we thought, “Not me. I will not be one of ‘the few.’” This “not me” attitude is evident in many aspects of our lives; we feel a side effect will not reach us. It relates to the NIMBY attitude in that it does not matter what happens as long as it is not to me. It manifests itself in our attitudes towards something like recycling or water conservation when we slack and do not recycle or conserve because we think someone else will do it. It all comes back to only listening to the information that is convenient for us and pushing aside that which is not. Government and corporations play the shell game because we let them. We want to feel like everything is ok and that we are always the “good guys.” The truth is hard. But unless we embrace it, change will never happen.

    • Hi Kirsten, interesting timing with the meds. I am not attempting to give medical advice–only to analyze a bit of the way our system works. It is up to you to obtain information on whatever meds you are taking and evaluate your need for them WITH sound medical advice. You have a great point about the “not me” (it will not happen to me) attitude. You have an excellent point about the mindset we need to embrace for change to happen- thank you.

  12. Particularly, My mother and I have always been amused and confused to why anyone would feel comfortable taking medication when there are such a copious amount of side effects, namely death. I feel that this article is just another topic that falls under the umbrella of our disconnect with our bodies and how they function. I believe that many of our health solutions lay in what we are putting into our mouths. Taking a pill and undergoing the detrimental side effects is a perfect relationship to compare to our actions and their side effects onto the planet. This situation in particular takes it further to also bring up an important and unfortunate influence: advertisement. Most people believe what they hear and are not critical enough. So much of what we know has evolved from internet sites and television commercials rather than family members and friends. The commercial isn’t not reaping the health benefits, but only the monetary.

    • Thanks for your comment, Dana. It is more than a little bizarre that one would risk a side effect of death! But then we often have the idea that these things apply only to others, not to ourselves. It is certainly time to take back our power over our own health and knowledge and responsible choice is one way to do this. As for what people “put in their mouths”, you would be in line with a large number of healing traditions in the influence of this on our health.
      I agree that we also need the support of person to person communities, composed of those whose motives are other than making a buck off our pain and insecurity.

  13. It seems like this is basically wrapping up the whole of how we live out our lives in American Culture. It’s ridiculous how little we think about things or care about how our actions will effect the rest of the world. We only see the sparkles and the glittering generalities and what could be and don’t look at all the things in between. The prices that must be paid and the results that will inevitably come to pass. It’s as if the current generation thinks that it is going to be the last one on earth. Maybe people are taking this 2012 possibility a little more seriously than I realized. It’s like knowing you’re about to loose your job. Why work anymore? That is a pretty huge statement because I know that there are a lot of people who are working to find better ways of doing things and people who care enough to look into all the facts and make educated decisions, it’s just easier I guess, to see all the places where our society is falling short.

    • Sadly, Alyssa, I think that our worldview fosters the impulse to cop out in one way or another. At the same time, I understand the pain and anger that comes with a face to face view of the world in its present state-and if social leaders like CEOs seem to be focused on taking the money and running, I can see why some young people don’t feel like living up to a different potential. The joy and wonder–and hope– is that so many are NOT taking that course. It says something both about them–and about the impulse of life that is in us and wants to be expressed and continue.

  14. There’s just so much here. The modern pharmacology marketing push is just a waste of everybody’s time and money. It wastes doctors time, I feel pretty sure that with all those year of medical school they’re better at diagnosing people and selecting effective remedies than Joe Public and Jane Marketer. More over think of all the advances that aren’t being made and research that isn’t being funded with pharmaceutical marketing budgets over shadowing research 2 to 1.

    Pharmacology has it’s place, using the system as intended letting doctors solve chemical problems with chemical solutions. A few months of generic SSRIs took the edge off for me, and made all the difference in the world. But that was a last resort decision made by a trained professional, and it was the right one.

    I think you’re spot on with the problem with people glossing over the side effects. Part of it is the happy nothing bad can happen attitude of the commercials. Part of it is that people don’t want to know, it’s FDA approved, it must be safe, I don’t want to think so I won’t.

    Then there’s issue of straight up misdirection. People are easy to misdirect, people are profitable to misdirect, costs are easy to externalize with misdirection, externalized costs are easy to hide with misdirection. That’s how capitalism works, but don’t fret the almighty Market would never let that happen to His beloved children.

    It’s surprising how easily divided people are. Opposition to the Iraqi War, and other complaints of government and corporate indiscretion are a common thread here. There’s clearly a common agenda with EFF, and some of the other names I’m more familiar with, but I’ve yet to see a unified front that cuts across causes. I suppose I’m a guilty as anyone as I haven’t organized it.

    As to our well meaning attempts to”fix” terrorism in the Middle East, it’s surprising how few people make the connection between the West’s continued interference and negative attitudes toward the West.

    • I appreciate your elaboration of the side effects in a context in which money–and manipulation to extract it– begins to mean more than health, Peter. Intentional misdirection is a good term for some of the “side effects” or “collateral damage” of our choices

  15. Because of such side effects, I have limited my intake and my families intake of any type of drug. I watch the ads and wonder why anyone would gamble with their life. Almost like russian roulette. I do believe that our society and their “get quick fix” has contributed greatly to this age in drugs and elective surgeries. It is also amazing how upset people are when the drugs do not work or those people get the side effects.

    As for the political side I just stay out of it and inform myself with my own research. I think that political debate just adds to more conflict.

    • Thanks for sharing your alertness here, Adeena. I do think that few of us are able to thoroughly understand our choices in this respect– this is why I think we need the protection of organizations like the EPA in stemming the system wide use of the 84000 untested chemicals currently released into our environment. I see a number of moves of the current EPA director, Lisa Jackson as moves in the right direction and am watching for ways to support these when I see a chance.

  16. I’m reminded of this story about a woman who got a flu shot and ten days after gets a neurological disorder, Dystonia, in which her muscles have uncontrollable contractions.

    It’s scary to think that the medicine we’re told to trust can in fact destroy our lives. Quick fixes, as you call them, can be dangerous. It’s important to get all the facts and educate yourself before taking any medication, especially for a prolonged period of time.

    The marketing aspect is someone one should always take with a grain of salt. As a designer, and an intern at a few agency’s in Portland, I know first hand how marketing works. The most important point to any marketing campaign is selling the product, whether that be through imagery, branding, or even what the product actually is/does. It’s all about money. Not your health.

    • I appreciate your personal perspective, Lincoln. And since advertising has this particular stance, it is up to us as consumers to gain the knowledge to protect our health–and also support federal agencies that should be doing this like the REACH program is doing it in the EU. Thanks for your comment.

  17. I have taken a number of different medications throughout my adult life for a number of ailments including medication for asthma and insomnia, even anxiety. While I have had excellent success with most of the prescriptions I have tried I harbor a healthy fear of them. I am religious with taking my medication as directed but know that I still run a risk of complications. I’m sure you’ve seen the ads on TV: taking asthma medications can cause fatal breathing problems and there are similar warnings on the other medications I take. Doctors will tell you that the risks are minor; I had one tell me once that the side effect of a particular medication caused sudden liver failure and death. This only happens in two or three people out of 10,000 so it’s no big deal right? I’m sure it is to the two or three people and their families. Doctors and pharmaceutical companies and their focus on marketing also make a point to convince consumers that these prescription options or medical procedures are the only options. I fell for it, so much that it is difficult as I make the transition to more natural methods of controlling my ailments. But if they work as well without the risks, I think it is worth the change on my part.

  18. We definitely like to look the other way in terms of side affects. On a average ad for some type of medicine, it will spend around 30 or more seconds showing all the great things it can do for you, and then maybe 3-4 seconds running through the list of the side affects. I had a friend who was using some very strong medicine for acne that was highly marketed on T.V. He was only on this medication for about 2 weeks before those side affects, that were hid on the corner of the box in a font that basically needed a magnifying glass to read, affected him dramatically. Like this article says, these companies spend a vast amount of there budget on marketing, instead of research and development. If a company took the time and money to develop a good product, with minimal side affects, it could create an ad that instead of portraying a man who is feeling perfect, talk about the minimal side affects. We desperately need to start looking at the big picture in our problems, instead of finding the easiest, fastest way out. By doing this, were creating so many side affects there is no use to take the medicine or use the product in the first place.

  19. What first struck me about this essay was the discussion of pills and their side effects and the carnival tricks that go on to persuade people to buy them without seriously considering the risks involved. As an HHS student with an interest in Public Health topics, I have always been frustrated by the promotion of drugs and the way that health care and drug distribution are so profit-oriented. One of the primary reasons that so many people are tricked into the “simple solution” of medication is that advertisements are so prevalent– and this is because of the profit-based nature of pharmaceutical companies. When people’s health is at stake, profits should not be the concern, but the health and well being of individuals. It angers me that that is usually the last concern and that advertisers feel comfortable giving false security to potential patients when they very well know what some of the likely outcomes will be.

  20. As a nurse, I really had to agree with the bulk of this essay. Every day, I see a waiting room full of people who are early for appointments; and end up waiting 20-30 minutes past their appointment time because the doctor(s) invite each and every pharmacy representatives (up to 15 per day) to “the head of the line.” Our doctor’s office went from no pharmacy reps. nine years ago to the current 15+ per day. Why even open our doors to paying patients? Because it is those patients that keep the representative/pharmacies working, not the doctor. The doctor cannot force the patient to take the meds – he prescribes but he doesn’t forcefeed. Now, in defense of the doctor I work for (a geriatric physician), he reached the point of desperation. He began hearing too often from his patients that they could no longer afford the co-pay on prescriptions, so they went without. (He does encourage the pharmacy reps) because often he is able to provide his patients with enough “samples” (left by representatives) of their regular meds for the month – holding them over until he gathers enough samples from the representatives to provide his patients with more. In this case, the shell game has in a wierd sense assisted these patients – but I do see a great many harmful things the shell game has initiated for the teenagers that are drawn more to these colorful commecials than adults are. In many cases I feel that these pills are directed at the younger generations than the older ones, even if it is for incontinence or erectile dysfunction.

    • Thanks for sharing the special perspective you have on this issue, Mary. It is sad indeed that the pill-society ethics are directed at those so primed for drug addiction in their immature minds and bodies.
      I do know physicians who use samples to help their patients avoid the cost of these meds. The irony of course is that those doctors are being educated about the new meds primarily by the pharmaceutical reps. They generally haven’t time to read up on all the research involved for themselves.

  21. Doesn’t it seem as though many of us subscribe to the belief that all problems can be solved with a pill? Pharmaceutical companies are deplorable in the way they push drugs. But then they wouldn’t have such power if so many of us weren’t so anxious to avoid or cure our problems with medications. Though many drugs are necessary and provide cures or ease suffering the constant barrage of commercials lead us to believe that science holds the answer to our problems. I see this message relating to your other article on the mirrors in space. We can have our attention diverted away from our actions because science can provide the solutions and get us out of the mess we got ourselves into. For me personally, this behavior has been laziness and I admit to finding comfort in believing that no matter how sick I am or how badly my actions have harmed the environment, science has an answer that will make it all better. It’s a belief system served up on a platter by corporations making billions off of my willingness to give up my personal power. The slight of hand you talk about in reference to the weapons of mass destruction was a master stroke of manipulation. Using fear to get a society to do what you want is effective but morally and ethically wrong. For years I felt powerless in the face of emotional manipulation, secrecy, brainwashing, media manipulation, etc. So much real devastation went on and no one has ever really been held accountable. People in the previous administration made a great deal of money on the war their fear mongering started. And we are footing the bill!
    I think your conclusion sums up so much so well. We are a society on the look out for quick fixes that will cost us little and make us feel better for the moment. In adopting this limited thinking, we have left ourselves open to the manipulations of politicians and corporations. It is the responsibility of each and every one of us to question authority, to question our own actions and start living lives that don’t demand quick fixes at the expense of animals, environment, other societies or our souls. This is a very thought provoking article! All of them keep building ever more powerfully on how interconnected everything is and how our actions have often very profound consequences even the action of inaction!

    • Great conclusion concerning ways to empower ourselves, Sue. I am a strong believer in having each personal think for him/herself rather than following some supposed “expert” without evaluating their credentials, motivations and their values. I don’t think that those out to sell us something can be relied on to have our best interests at heart.
      And as for the take-a-pill society, I would say that the pharmaceutical industry and our quick-fix worldview play well into the same game on that point. Thanks for your comment.

  22. I feel as though the advertisements for prescription drugs we see on television should be stopped. These advertisements are misleading to say the least. You see people leading active lifestyles, having fun and enjoying life. What you don’t see is anyone with the side effects of the drug. You only see those listed in small type during the add and you have to be a very fast reader to even be able to see what they are. It’s not surprising that the drug companies are willing to spend more money on advertising that research. They are counting more on the advertisements to sell the drugs than the effectiveness or safety of the drugs.
    And the cloak and dagger routines that the federal government and others pull to get us to believe what they say and side with them on important issues like a war it totally rediculous. I saw a news clip the other day where the Iranian President said that Osama Bin Laden may be living happily in Washington DC. Who really knows? That could be a situation similar to the weapons of mass destruction that was never found.

    • I agree with you about the ads on tv, Mildred. They are misleading, as you note, they play to a vulnerable audience (those ill or in pain) and I have seen studies that indicate doctors don’t like them, as their patients pressure them to prescribe things as a result that may or may not be required or even helpful–and as noted in this article, have considerable side effects.
      As you also point out, so many ads considerably raise the price for pharmaceuticals that are needed, pricing out of range of those with little or no insurance–and contributing to the raise in insurance rates. I really don’t believe, if given a choice, the average consumer wants to pay for drug ads in this way.
      I think it is shameless when those in power use the concept of finding an enemy (whoever it is) to get us to approve their actions.

  23. Thank you for bringing up the prescription drug culture of America. I feel like people’s willingness to take any drug that the doctors prescribe to them is a reflection of our willingness to do what we are told and not ask questions. Americans especially want the simple answer and instant results. I had a friend from Germany staying with me last summer and he was shocked that prescription drugs were advertised on television. That should be a huge red flag. That makes taking prescription drugs the status quo. Some of these drugs are seriously bad and make people zombie like. I don’t want to sound like hippy liberal d-bag here but I think that another problem is dismissal of views of the body as an energy body. I feel like mass polution causing disease and the pharm industry go hand in hand, adding incentives on both sides to keep the system going the way it is. The media obviously is in the pockets of these interests. Government bodies are getting campaign money from these interests so they’re aren’t motivated to change things. Plus the zombie-like side effects keeps the population easy to manage and not about to grasp the concept that the status quo shouldn’t be the status quo.

    • It is interesting that ideas that might have once sounded like those of “hippies”– as least in the analysis of the health results of our economic system, are now becoming more mainstream. I can bring up the cancer report again (you can tell what I have been reading today!), where they specifically cite problems with remedying environmental toxins include industry’s having too much power in oversight agencies. This is one of the reasons we must be informed- in order to combat all the media hype that we are subject to. I think we should support the Safe Chemicals for Kids Act (just now in committee) that specifies an overhaul of our chemical usage toward precaution as Europe and a substantial portion of Canada are already doing. Even if we are not expressing leadership in this regard, the least we can do is not lag behind.
      Thanks for your comment, Ben.

    • I agree about the reflection to do what we are told and not ask questions. i don’t have a tv but i hear people talking about commercials and ads all the time and I can’t believe the credibility that they give to things- such as drugs, diets, energy drinks and so on- just because the ads claim that they are “docotor approved” or “contains nutritious value”. they may be doctor approved but whose the doctor and what are his/her motives. people just don’t do their own research anymore and do whatever tv tells them to do. it seems that the quick fix usually results in having to be refixed in a long and possible more painful manner- ie all of these new energy drinks that even young kids are allowed to buy. (why do young kids need energy drinks in the first place?) everyone is so happy to have some extra energy to be able to do more things and last longer through the day but what happens after weeks of drinking them- people are experiencing kidney failure and other medical issues resulting in hospital admittance and so on. All the problems could be avoided if people would eat better, exercise and sleep for more energy rather than falling into the hands of consumersim and then really having to pay the price.

      • Eat better, exercise, and sleep– what a great prescription, Ely. My hope for each of us is that are learning to think for yourselves in an authentic way: so that you will be just that much less susceptible to manipulation by the “experts” in these ads.
        At least the kids I know have plenty of “extra energy already!”
        Thanks for your comment.

  24. “A disaster is an excellent distraction: a perfect way to get people to accept what they wouldn’t normally accept.”

    Germany’s economic crisis and Hitler’s “fix.”
    The September 11 attacks and the “war on terror.”
    The Haiti disaster and the resulting fraudulent charities.
    The bombing of Pearl Harbor and Japanese Internment Camps.

    Off the top of my head, these are just a few examples from history in which a disaster caused people to look past things that would otherwise draw a red flag. We do indeed search for quick fixes. It does not matter if it involves economics, public health, or public safety, we want a solution fast. And marketers and politicians alike have learned how to present us with such solutions while using the current crisis as a mask for the side effects. It seems only natural that emotion surrounding a disaster can blur judgment, but it also seems that we can educate ourselves to know the difference between a hoax and reality should we face such a situation. My hope is that more and more people do so because we cannot keep functioning on such a system of deceit.

    • Good perspective, Kirsten. Perhaps some day we will develop a perspective that tells us we need to be more careful and caring the context of disasters–rather than using them as distractions and as excuses not to behave morally.
      I am with you on your hope for a change, Kirsten, away from the “system of deceit”– and I don’t think this system can hold up in the end.

  25. I enjoy the parellels that you make between the war and pesticide use. It is regretable to me that the problems that are occuring today were preventable if approached in the right manner. The issues occuring today, such as the flooding in Bangladesh, are complex serious issues that are creating disasters and band-aids will only put a cover on these issues temporarily. In my opinion, these issues such as global warming and the deforestation are not curable. However by making simple changes in every day life society would be able to manage these problems and halt the damage we are creating to the natural world, but unfortunatley what is done is done and we can’t take back the suffering that we generated.

    • We obviously need to begin making some conscious decisions– since, as you point out, that is something we can do to prevent the suffering that we cannot take back once it has occurred. Thanks for your comment, Angela.

  26. A friend of mine tried to quit smoking, after years and years of the habit. He knew he couldnt do it alone, so he went, saw the doctor and got a prescription for that new stop smoking drug. What they didnt tell him, when he was at the doctor’s, was the anxiety attacks, or the depression, or the suicidal tendencies, or the sharp mood swings, or the sudden spikes of anger for no reason.

    He knew things were wonky, a little more moody, but he just thought that was normal for trying to quit smoking. Even his family thought it was just normal.

    Til the first time he laid a hand on his daughter in unexplained anger and then later in abject depression over what he did, later tried to commit suicide that night.

    These drugs are getting passed out without complete testing, without complete disclosure, even from the doctor themselves. When my friend later talked to his doctor, the doctor dismissed the side effects, just a part of quiting smoking. It was finally the doctor at the emergency room who clued in, that all the symptoms were real tangible side effects from one medication.

    They dont care what happens due to the side effects, only caring if we stay their patients and keep buying their drugs.

  27. I was raised with the idea that most common illnesses can be fixed naturally. For example, when I was a little kid I got ear infections a lot. The doctors wanted to put tubes in my ears. My mother didn’t like that idea so instead she did some research and learned that some kids that are allergic to dairy get ear infections. She stopped letting me have milk and other dairy products and my ear infections went away. I think a lot of things can be blamed on vitamin deficiency. Our foods have been processed so much we’ve lost all the vital nutrients we need to live properly. Pass that down a few generations and we’ve got a lot of sick unhealthy people. Instead of prescribing medicine for every little problem, we should be looking at how to stop the problem from ever occurring in the first place. Perhaps there is a more natural cause and natural remedy instead of all those chemicals in pills. Homeopathic doctors and regular doctors should work together, instead of against each other.

    • And if not a more “natural” remedy for what ails us, ones that cause less potential harm. We need less “heroic” medicine (the definition of modern “alleopathic” medicine) and more nurturing medicine-which includes environmental and community healing as well.

  28. I think a reason for so many Americans being able to so willingly put these medications into their bodies has to do with our “right now” attitude. Instead of working with their depression or anxiety through cognitive or behavioral therapies they just simply decide to pop a pill because it’s faster, easier, and less time consuming than other methods of help. I also think that pharmaceutical companies shouldn’t be allowed to show such commercials on TV, or if they do then they should be required to put more emphasis on the potential side effects of a drug. One of the parts of this essay that was particularly alarming (there were many) was the part that says “pharmaceutical companies have recently shifted their major investment from research to marketing”. It’s appalling to me that these big companies would rather invest their money into advertisements than to put that money to a better use by using it for research to possibly minimize the side effects of drugs. Don’t they have a conscience? Just last night I saw a commercial from a law firm saying that three popular brands of birth control pills were known to cause gall bladder problems, heart disease, DVT, and strokes and anyone who had experienced these problems were entitled to money. If drug companies weren’t allowed to advertise as freely as they are now, then maybe they would spend some of their advertising budget in much more useful ways.

  29. When I consider the big drug companies, I would like to be able to envision a helping hand. I would like to envision a company full of people who just wanted to make the world a better place, and who wanted to truly heal. But I don’t know anyone who views drug companies that way. They seem cold, callous and cocky. They’re out to make money off of our misfortune, and they are pretty unapologetic about it. They put drugs on the market that haven’t been thoroughly tested, violating the principle of precaution and spitting in the fact of ethics. (Yes, I know that the FDA has a testing process. However, three of the medicines that I’ve been on in my short life have been recalled. Why? Because they can cause permanent skin damage/cancer, liver failure, etc.) It is getting so bad that I’m almost a conspiracy theorist. I wonder if we’ll ever get a cure for cancer or for AIDS, or if the drug companies will repress those cures because they are making too much money treating cancer and AIDS. That is certainly something that I should never have to wonder! I just hope that we (as a society) can start really thinking about the drugs we take. If we are more selective about what we are putting into our bodies, and we make sure our doctors are not overprescribing/prescribing unnecessarily, we could perhaps turn the drug companies away from marketing. They might actually remember that they are in the business of healing, and wouldn’t that be a relief!

    • Envisioning a helping hand is precisely what the drug companies would wish us to envision, Amanda. Wouldn’t it be great if they lived up to this higher purpose? I know some researchers feel this way, but all too often, they are compromised or fired by corporations who prioritize the bottom line. I am thinking of the doctor filed from a large pharmaceutical company because she had objections to coloring antibiotic liquids for children with questionable chemicals.
      You have a good point about actually assessing and choosing carefully what we put in our bodies. Our culture is so based on instinct fixes that doctors are often pressured by their patients to receive a pill to fix things– the current drug ads on tv don’t help.

  30. I agree with you that the American public is exposed to incredibly shady practices from corporations and politicians. It is not very common you here about deaths resulting from prescription drug side effects much less even the civilian or soldier casualty numbers of our two current wars. I do think however, partial blame for these situations lie within the American public. Our lifestyles dictate we want the easiest way possible to the end result and that is what all those drugs do, and obviously not everyone is ignorant of the side effects, but rather are of the opinion that the worst couldn’t happen to them. I think that at least with the drugs, no one is forcing people to ingest them and ultimately it is the individual’s responsibility to make an educated choice as to what they put in their bodies regardless of the propaganda. As for the wars, I am at a loss there. We are in such a pickle by creating these wars and now we are at a point where arguably, there is no right choice anymore.

  31. I’ve tried to catch all the side effects listed during those pharmaceutical ads–some of them are pretty fast–and I have to say, many times, the side effects sound much worse than the conditions they are supposed to treat (especially when “suicidal tendencies” or “death” is one of the side effects!). I believe that direct-to-consumer pharmaceutical ads are actually banned in many countries, if I’m not mistaken, which I’m sure must help to some extent with patients getting the drug they “need” (if, in fact, one is needed at all), not the one they “want.” There is also a problem, however, with doctors being essentially “courted” by pharmaceutical companies to prescribe their products.

    As pointed out in the essay, our cultural tendencies “prime us for the shell game.” Relating to the pharmaceutical issue, our cultural tendency to find an immediate “technological fix” for every inconvenience contributes to the problem. Many of the symptoms such ads describe are normal, i.e. “tired/lack of energy”, “headaches/migraines”, “aches/pains”, etc., that can easily be addressed by simple lifestyle changes–but it’s just so much easier to think a little pill can solve our problems. It’s just another expression of our tendency to try and dominate nature, rather than working with or within it.

    • I agree with you, Crystal, that often the side effects of certain drugs sound worse than the disease being treated with them. There is also a serious problem indeed with doctors being courted by pharmaceuticals, as expressed in Unhinged: the Trouble with Psychiatry. “Easier to think a little pill can solve our problems”, as you put it; life is more complex and immensely richer. Thanks for your comment.

  32. Another huge issue with pharmaceutical companies and their drive to release these drugs is the fact they have a “protected patent” for about 10 years I think? This essentially means no other company can reverse engineer the drug and sell an off-brand version of it. So the pharmaceutical companies are driven to get these drugs out so they can maximize the time of their patent to make as much money as possible before other companies start selling their products.

    I have had personal experiences with the game of prescription drugs. I had chronic migraines, and was prescribed something to combat them, but one of the side effects was “potential nausea”. Needless to say, it was not “potential”, it was very real, and I was then prescribed ANOTHER drug to combat the nausea, but the anti-emetic they gave me only made my migraines worse. In the end, I stopped taking both, and actually ended up feeling better in some way because I knew how miserable I had been on the medication.

    • Thanks for sharing your experience on the migraines, Kamran. I am glad you found a better course for yourself: who knows how many drugs you might have gotten up to if you kept taking one more to avoid the side effects of the previous one.
      This may or may not apply to you but recent research has linked aspartame (nutrasweet and aminosweet used to artificially sweeten drinks) to severe chronic headaches in some people.
      Patents are a severe problem, which has wrested the use of indigenous foods from some communities (the case of Basmati rice “patented” by a Texas corporation is classic). Pharmaceuticals can also raise their prices to get the most possible out of their drugs: at one point South Africa asked permission to be able to make and sell a generic amoxicillin (which they could do for pennies a shot) to combat infant diarrhea. The government was just coming out of apartheid and
      quite poor, and trying to combat a serious health epidemic in their population. However, they were refused permission since it would cut into company profits. Who knows how many babies died as a result.
      There is also a problem with patenting particular human genes: it turns out that the genes used in experiments, which have been grown in labs from originals, are not controlled by their donors (who may in some cases not even know their genes are being used in this way), but by the labs.
      Such cases (Basmati rice especially) are the reason for Vandana Shiva’s “no patents on life” campaign.
      But a major concern with drug release (in the US much of the research may be covered not by the companies, but by government grants–but the company still gets the profits), is the research proving these new drugs safe. A recent analysis of the results of testing or particular chemicals found that one hundred per cent of industry tests proved the same chemicals harmless that nearly one hundred per cent of independent tests proved harmful.

  33. New medications that are arriving on the market everyday all seem to have these beautiful commercials of how life is only bettered by the aid of this new drug. However, many of the side effects cannot even be determined yet due to the limited amount of time in testing. I haven’t seen a drug commercial without the fast talking low toned rambling list of side effects to date, and these side effects are just the ones they know about. Why do we allow these sorts of games, or as the essay so perfectly puts it “Shell Game” to trick us. As a society we want the pretty picture. We don’t want to be bothered with side effects or hard times. But the reality is life is gritty. We have to be willing to look closer and harder at what is really going on under the surface. Just as the war in Iraq was so eloquently employed by the idea of freedom and “weapons of mass destruction” that we as a society were unwilling to see the truth. Even today we allow civilians to be murdered with no real talk about it. No care for these poor humans because we are unwilling to scratch the surface and see what really lies underneath.

    • Those pointing out the dangers of gmo research make the same point as you do: that we need some time to realize the results of this technology–or these pharmaceuticals. Life is complex and we can’t as you note expect a one pill–or one weapon– answer to our problems. Thanks for your comment about the necessity and courage of seeing what lies beneath the surface (and our projections) on the “others” in this world , Julie.

  34. This article is very true. Humans take way to many drugs and then get socked when they don’t work, or when someone dies because of them. We really have done a great job at increasing the length of a persons life. However that does come with a cost, what helps humans live longer can also kill humans quickly.

    There really is a Disneyland view on things where they trick people into believing something is good and right, when it probably is not the best way to go about and do something. Just like all the wars going on, or with the medicines that are out and keep coming out. The people never get to hear the whole story.

    • Hearing the whole story, as you point out, is important to making decisions about our health– and certainly, in terms of wars with other nations, Ayla. A “Disneyland” view, as you aptly put it, doesn’t serve us well. I would only take issue with one point here, it is not “humans” so much as members of industrial society that are hung up on ordering their lives through drugs.

  35. I think one of the real dangers here is that people believe that they know better than their doctor what should and should not be taken. They blindly continue looking for a doctor who will finally give them a drug when their other doctors have told them no. Many many many drugs are perfectly safe when used properly and are given out BECAUSE THEY WORK. Of course, I may hold this view because I am biased, but I am often told how to do my job by people who have no clue about medicine. So I don’t think that doctors need to be blamed, but people in general need to remember that we go to school for 9 years for this. The pharmaceuticals need to stop treating patients like consumers and instead like patients who need effective treatments.

  36. Yes, there are more and more pharmaceutical advertisements than ever before. These advertisments glorify the use of their prescription drugs, which encourages consumers to purchase them. The pharmaceutical companies also get physicians on board by giving them incentives to prescribe them to their patients. So physicians make money for their services to they provide to their patients and additional money from the pharmaceutical companies. Both the physicians and the pharmaceutical companies rake in the dough in the process. When the pharmaceutical companies advertise their products they mention potential side effects, but fail to clearly mention deadly adverse effects that can cause death or permanent damage. There have been people who have suffered from taking a medication that caused them permanent damage. Now the lawyers also rake in the dough from people who want a lawsuit against these drug companies. The only one who doesn’t benefit from this shell game is the patient or consumer who winds up losing in the long run.

    • All too true, Elizabeth. Especially sad because this dynamic preys on vulnerable people: we need real healers and healing (of folks like Doctors without Borders) to replace this.

    • Your are right on about pharmaceutical companies glorifying prescription drug use. I remember a few years ago seeing a documentary about a young women who was HIV positive. She was taking a drug protocol to prevent developing AIDS. This women was taking a regime of around 15 pills everyday, which started at 5 am and ended around 4 pm. She had to wear adult diapers and rarely left the house due to the nausea and incontinence. This young woman commented about seeing people on television who were HIV positive living active normal lives and wondered why she was so different. Maybe because the other people are paid actors, not actual individuals who are HIV positive. You never hear drug companies tell you about these people who are actually living with these diseases and taking all of these medications. Probably because they would not sell any drugs if they did. These commercials and ads are all marketing tools to sell drugs, and it is big business in this country. These pharmaceutical companies are making millions of dollars off of us every year, and we just keep giving it to them.

      • Thoughtful point about the actors on television who stand in for various drug users… pointed out as part of the pharmaceutical marketing push in our new post here. Thanks for both of your thoughtful comments.

  37. I have watched and wondered about things like this for so long it is crazy. I recall thinking to myself the first time I saw a pharmaceutical advertisement on the television in mid 1990’s; what is this on television for, is this for real? My father was a pharmacist and he won’t take medication ever; that’s telling, isn’t it? Being raised by someone who knew what is in medicine was helpful, it lent to a higher level of awareness of the negative aspects and indications of medications. And the way I was raised regarding medications is in part why I was asking myself why in the world drug companies were and are trying to sell their medications directly to the patient, and how this is even legal.

    The cycle of demand starts with the pharmaceutical representatives that sell their drugs to the doctors after providing a nice selection of samples for distribution to the patients as a “free bee”. Then with the establishment of prescription drug coverage and formularies describing what drugs will be covered and at what “insurance to patient pay ratio” rate, prescriptions went wild; more drugs also hit the market. Drug companies then needed to find an alternate method of making money, and that is when advertising to the patients was born, so they ask their doctors, which influences the insurance companies and in turn, the formularies change, and the drug companies and the insurance companies profit aggregately, its just great for everyone because the patient is still getting the drug they have decided they need.

    This is the scariest part. The pharmaceutical companies along with the insurance companies have taken the responsibility of being a doctor out of doctor’s hands when drug advertisements started airing on TV. People started telling the doctors what they needed, and as it was supported by the insurance the patient had, they doctor prescribed it. In many instances it is not covered by the insurance companies but the doctor still prescribes it.

    And its absolutely true that what has influenced the general public when watching these pharmaceutical commercials is the story in the commercial about that drug; its the woman walking along the waters edge on a beautiful sandy beach with the wind blowing through her hair, the couple who can be close and intimate whenever they chose to; certainly not the mention of upset stomach, diarrhea, anal leakage, early menopause, hair loss, halitosis and boils that was made at the very end in a very expedited manner.

    Knowing this is only one example of the many ways we have been manipulated, and have allowed ourselves to be manipulated is frightening. Thinking about the results of this manipulation is beyond frightening.

    • It is a telling point indeed about your father the pharmacist, Lizzie. He won’t take ANY kind of medication ever? Thanks for your personal insight on the ways in which insurance/pharmaceutical partnerships are replacing doctors (and/or pressuring doctors to use medication instead of other forms of treatment?)
      Your example would be humorous if it were not for the sad fact that it sells this products.
      Thanks for your thoughtful comment here.

  38. The statistics regarding drug use in this country is staggering. What is worse is the number of children who are currently being medicated by doctors and parents for being “overactive” and “distracted” in class. Isn’t this what kids do? I remember daydreaming in school as a child and I was also full of energy and highly active. When did these typical childhood behaviors become medical ailments needing severe medications?

    We are also medicating our teenagers in alarming numbers for being lonely, stressed and sad? These again are normal childhood tendencies, especially in the teen years when hormones are running rampant. Who doesn’t remember feeling stressed or lonely at some point during their teenage years? Now, I realize that some teenagers are clinically depressed and need medication, but the problem here is one of the most prominent side effects of medication for depression, is becoming depressed! How does that work? We give our children medication for being depressed, only to increase these feelings of isolation and sadness.

    The drugs we use today are very powerful medications and have SEVERE side effects. We need to educate ourselves better about these medications, rather than just taking the doctor’s word that we need them and that they will work. It is time to take control of our own health and stop poisoning ourselves and our children.

    • I absolutely agree with you about the over medicating of children, Jamie. Along with the physical side effects, we are creating a culture in which drugs are the solution for every behavior or mood problem– or even minor discomfort. Need we wonder why the vast majority of persons presently incarcerated in Oregon are there for (non-violent) drug use? A recent epidemic is housewives’ being addicted to prescription drugs.
      We are giving folks the idea that their natural tendencies (energy for instance, as you note) have something wrong with them and no one can deal with uncomfortable feelings without some pharmaceutical help.
      The point about poisoning is an apt one, since pharmaceuticals are now entering our groundwater and rivers through human waste.
      Thanks for your comment.

  39. Thank you, Dr. Holden, for your analogy concerning the “carnival huckster” as a large pharmaceutical company. We should all take alarm went any product producing industry shifts greater financial investment from research to marketing. I like the title for Naomi Klein’s book, “disaster capitalism”. Although I haven’t read it, yet, it definitely seems to exemplify modern culture. It seems like fear has become a great marketing tool. This reminded me of a quote by Niccolo Machiavelli, an Italian Prince of the mid 1800’s, who supposedly stated that he’d rather be feared than loved, if both were not an option. Just like George Bush Jr. and his sidekick, Cheney, used on the American public to gather support for their war on Iraq. The use of fear to motivate society can be viewed throughout history and I’m currently thinking about its use in a religious context. Christianity supported a fearful attitude, as is illustrated in the Old Testament, to keep its followers in support of its actions or they’d experience the “wrath of God”. This is much different than the writings of the New Testament, which seemed to convey a new stance, by the “Church”, to help bring people back to the Christian religion. It’s all been marketing to me and I still feel like this is linked to modern cultures social lack of identity in our bond to nature. I like Franklin D. Roosevelt’s quote: “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself”. I hope “we”, modern society, realize this connection between fear and marketing so that “we” can gain a better understanding of our place in the natural processes of our environment and see as clearly as those indigenous people before us?

    • Great analysis of the use (and misuse) of fear as a human motivator–and the counter leadership expressed in Roosevelt’s famous statement. It seems we could use more of that sense of leadership–and community–today.
      It doesn’t say much about our “progress” if we are reverting to Machiavellian techniques.
      Thanks for your insights here, Ryan– as well as your feedback.

  40. I apologize for the mess-up, “went any product….”, in the 2nd sentence. I meant to say “when any product producing….”

  41. The “shell game” of medication is depicted in ads so well that after reading the section in this essay on the ads, I immediately thought of at least 5 television commercials that depicted the “Disneyland” atmosphere of the drug’s creation. I don’t even watch T.V. too often, but the Zoloft commercial from years ago will always be remembered. The ad starts off with a very depressed blob-like figure with a rain cloud following overhead everywhere he goes. The music is bleak, and it seems that there is no hope for happiness. That is of course until he takes Zoloft, the magical anti-depressant which causes the sun to come out, birds to start chirping, the blob to bounce around and smile continuously. Feeling sad? Take Zoloft and look what will happen!

    • “Disneyland” sales of drugs, as you aptly put it, is a serious problem, as you point out– thanks for your observations concerning these ads, which tell us that if we can take a pill to deal with our feelings.

  42. My Health and Fitness professor told me that, sometimes the illness doesn’t need medicine to cure. All you need to do is stand up and go running for about 15 minutes. I have tried what she taught me and it works very well. Whenever I feel uncomfortable or stress, I go to the gym and work out for more than 30 minutes. It makes me feel like I never sick before. In America, people are taking too much advantage of medicine. They are not aware of the side of effect. In Asia, Southeast Asia countries for example, we try not to use Western medicine. Instead, we cure our illness by using traditional ways and herbs. It is very effective, and no side effect guarantee. Even in our daily foods, it contains herbs and plants which cure and prevent illness and disease. For example, a lot of Vietnamese food has lemongrass in it. Scientists found that there is a special chemical compound in the lemongrass which is very effective to prevent cancer. My whole point here is try not to rely too much on drugs. If you want to be healthy, just watch your diet and go exercise. Don’t be lured by advertise! Whatever they claim like lose weight, increase muscle, fight anxiety is very dangerous because you are not fixing your body naturally. You use drug to force your body; in my culture it is the thing that we scare the most.

    • Thanks for sharing another cultural perspective here, Vu–as well as a perspective of fitness as something we gain from activity rather than drugs (I assume you are speaking of mental distress– I can’t imagine a better cure for anxiety or depression than exercise–and no side effects there expect maybe added heart health).
      I agree that in the US there is too much of an attitude that dropping a pill will cure all–modern medicine can be a lifesaving thing– but overuse can bring exactly the opposite response. We also cannot forget the ways in pharmaceutical companies currently market their drugs– which I think we need to regulate.
      Thanks for your comment, and keep moving!

    • Vu,
      You bring up a very interesting topic here: traditional medicine. This reminds me of the reading from last week in “Grandmothers Counsel the World”. As an American, I’ve grown up in a society which teaches us that getting better often requires a prescription for pills. Even a headache needs Aspirin, Tylenol, Advil, or some other type of medicine. Doctors don’t tell you that simply exercising, changing your diet, or using herbs to heal yourself can actually work. Sometimes you take one pill and it comes with 5 to 10 possible side-effects, which leads you to take 2 or 3 more different types of pills. This type of medicine is not very effective when you compare it to traditional medicine. I have been curious about traditional ways of healing for some time now, but have been confused as to how to pursue it. The norm here is obviously Western medicine. I’ve read about it, but am hoping to get more involved with it. It seems like a much more sufficient way to take care of oneself and will have numerous benefits.

      • Hi Kelsey, it turns out the majority of Americans have actually used “alternative” (now more often called “complementary”) medicine, which is pressuring the mainstream medical establishment to consider some of these. There are medical schools (the Univ. of AZ is one) who feature complementary aspects of medicine. Nutrition Action is a good information newsletter on nutrition. Unfortunately, we do not license herbalists, etc., as they do in European countries, which may make finding the right doctors tricky.

      • Doesn’t it seem crazy that someone would automatically take a pill because they have a headache. A headache is the body’s way of telling you something is wrong. If one develops a relationship with their body with such techniques as yoga, one can find that an imbalance in such little things as lack of sleep or not enough water or exericse is the cause of the headache and to treat it with a pill may stop the pain for awhile but the imbalance is still present and needs to be addressed. Traditional methods of treating such ailments in a holistic manner and finding the cause rather than treating the symptom seems much more sustainable.

        • Our worldview is too often about short cuts and quick fixes: it is also about driving ourselves. In order to cure a headache that is a symptom of personal pressure, one might have to take time for oneself–not a thing many of us feel we can afford to do. Although, in the long run, it make be exactly what we cannot afford not to do.
          You also point out that some such headaches are the result of simple failures to listen to our body– such as dehydration.
          That of course does not mean that a headache could not be the sign of something more serious– but popping a pill does not seem a way to get at that either.
          Thanks for your comment.

    • Vu, I totally agree with you. I haven´t been to the doctor for three years now. If I am not practically dying then there is no reason for me to go. I too do the same as you, I exercise daily. Taking medicine after medicine, I feel we are just building up immunities to these medicines we are prescribed and eventually nothing will work. Traditional methods and herbs are the best way for healing.

      • I do think you have a good practice in taking care of yourself, Jen. It is also true that there are some who do seriously need and profit from modern medical care: I am thinking of those with type I diabetes and those born with congenital defects needing surgery, for instance. I think we too need to be judicious and take responsibility for our own well being.

  43. Great article! Every point you touched on have been the topic of many conversations for my husband and I. The whole pharmaceutical thing is ridiculous- it has completely become about the money (as most things in this country do) and the benefit of the people has been overlooked or withdrawn. it has become so that even those we’ve trusted the most, such as our doctors, are untrustworthy. People expect their doctors or our president to do the honest thing- we expect that our best interest will be at hand in the decisions that they make after all that is why they are in the positions that they are in, right? Because money has become such a priority, it has become nearly impossible to know whether or not the peoples best interest is really what is being worked for. When one can’t even trust that their doctor or president is making decisions that will benefit their people rather than themselves- which leads to a whole other topic of ethics- then something is terribly wrong. Unfortunately, it is like a carnival trick and rather than question why or how its done we have programmed ourselves- well most people have- to just believe what we are told or what we see. If people spent less time listening to and doing what tv tells them and more time outside exercising and enjoying nature or researching more nutrition based possibilities to cure their ailments then these issues wouldn’t be so grand. This country is so focused on the “quick fix” that people are not willing to do things the right, healthy or most beneficial way anymore. They take the answer that seems the quickest regardless of side effects, qualifications and other important aspects.

    • It seems you and your husband are having some very substantial conversations, Ely!
      I think what is too often neglected when we let money set our values is that this is like a house of cards– since money is not based on the real value of anything (say, in environmental rarity and care– or we wouldn’t have global climate change or toxic chemicals– they would cost too much). That value is set by society (or by corporate individuals with the power to do this kind of manipulation).
      The “quick fix” parallels the short-term profit margin– or, as Wendell Berry has put it, treating the land that sustains us as Courtney reminded us, “as a one night stand”.

  44. Before reading this article I had mentioned in this assignment the problems of perscription drugs has reached our water supply. The use of perscription drugs for about everything has shifted a large percentage of the population to believe there is a quick fix for everything. That they do not have to make a conscious choice because there is a chemical drug that will treat what ever went wrong from their choice. It does not suprise me people ignore the warning label because most people believe it will not happen to them, they will not be a part of that small percentage. Drug companies only care about one thing and that is the bottom line, and the bottom line is not the health of the environment or the patients they are treating…. it is how much economic profit they will benefit from the drugs. Native people have always communicated with the spirits of the plants and animals to help heal their people from sufferings, it is time for western society to wake up and realize these chemical drugs are not helping them but harming them.

    • One sad part of pharmaceutical use, as you indicate Angel, is how many of these drugs are unneeded and ineffective. I would not argue that ALL drugs are not needed, but it is interesting, in line with what you say about native healing practices, that the majority of people in the US have now availed themselves of “complementary” therapies.
      The use of drugs with synergistic effects is especially problematic in treating PTSD of returning vets-and has resulted in several deaths of these veterans. Journalist Robert Whitaker has two great books documenting the history of psychiatric treatment. They show that though the pharmaceutical industry ads have gotten not only the US public but many doctors to believe that depression is due to a “chemical imbalance”, there has never been a single experiment actually verifying this–as some of the best researchers in the country have pointed out. This does not mean that drugs never help, but that we should know true claims from false one if we choose to use them–especially given their side effects.
      And another thing that comes to mind is that the native healing system is holistic: thus it would pick up synergistic and dangerous side effects more readily than a system that divides the natural world up (and our bodily systems) in order to assert a technology of control.,

  45. This is a very interesting topic. I don’t take a lot of medicine, just one an antianxiety/antidepressant. I resisted it for years, and only gave in about 5 years ago. It is not a magic bullet by any means, but it does help my symptoms. I do think some people need medications, but I agree they are very overprescribed, not to mention overpriced. I think it creates a real problem when the entities that research, develop, test, and market pharmaceuticals are publicly traded corporations with their eye on the bottom line (and now with First Amendment rights). You have to wonder what the drug companies are thinking when they spend huge amounts of money marketing directly to the consumer. “Ask your doctor if … is right for you.” That didn’t used to happen.

    I think it is sad and ironic that some drugs have potential side effects identical to the conditions they are supposed to alleviate. I was researching Cymbalta, which is being used for Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Some potential side effects are (you guessed it): fatigue, depression, and muscle pain.

    Here is a link to a very enlightening article on the pharmaceutical industry that I came across a couple of months ago. It is rather dramatic in its presentation, but I found it worthwhile reading.

  46. This article has a lot of good points. Many people in todays society are taking drugs that have been ‘perscribed’ to them and sometimes taking several drugs at the same time. When using a combination of drugs, with common sense, youd have to expect some kind of effect, yet people are surprised to see people getting ill or dying from the lethal combinations. I think everyone should be exposed to this article! I think it would open a lot of eyes.

    • Thanks for the feedback, Courtney. It is importance that everyone choose carefully which drugs to take in consultation with your doctor– or more than one doctor if you want a second opinion.

    • I completely agree Courtney; people should really research what they are taking and not take it on what is in the advertisement for truth. We need to find our knowledge in this world and in that I believe we will find ourselves.

  47. Very well put. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this and it really had me thinking as I head into the medical field on what my values as a doctor will be. I think it is a very good connection between what the media feeds us and what we accept as a culture as true. As a culture I believe we have lost our filters for what is being pumped up as the best new thing and what this drug really is. Being a chemistry minor I have certainly learned that even through some drugs can help people, the sponsored best may not be the answer, and the side effects on the body are not worth the risk for minor help from a drug. We just accept what the media tells us is true and they even command us to go ask our doctor about this drug because there is a chance it will not be prescribed unless the patient persists. After reading this I am glad I stick to my homeopathic solutions to ailments.

    • Michelle, although when it comes to medication options I have a slightly different viewpoint, i can respect your choice to support homeopathic solutions. The beauty of American freedom is portayed in this type of situation. Although we may not see eye to eye in all areas, we all are given the option to take the risks we feel comfortable with. Good luck with your future education and thank you for dedicating your career to helping others.

    • It is great to hear that you are doing what you want, not what mainstream tends to tell docs. I am in the veterinary field and often it is the same story, ‘give this pill to fluffy- oh sure it might make him vomit but at least he won’t have fleas’. I like to see people with the initiative and knowledge to make choices for themselves, and do so in a natural way.

    • Hi Michelle, I find it very heartening that you are considering your personal values in your future medical career. You may be very interested in the work of Rita Charon in “honoring the stories of illness”– compassionate as well as well respected head of the program of Narrative Medicine at Columbia University.
      And likely you know of Dana Ullman’s work in homeopathy?

  48. The beauty of America is the freedom we have to make the best decisions that we think best suit ourselves and our families. As a business major I have learned a thing or two about different marketing tactics used in all kinds of fields. Sure there are companies out there that use some questionable methods to get the word out, but the great thing is that we all have the option to purchase that product or not. Surely Americans are not too incompetent not understand the risks involved within the medical field as a whole. Any time we put something into our bodies whether it be a drug, anesthesia medication, alcohol, tobacco, or caffeine it is our own responsibility to choose whether or not it is right for us. For many, it seems the potential small risk is worth the benefits. Often people are ok with taking the risk and are happy with the drug, until they are the one that encounters the occasional situation involving one of the possible side effects (cons) to which they were already aware of. An example would be a person that chooses to drive a car to work every day even while knowing of the potential risks involved which can include injury or even death. They are happy with the benefit of being able to arrive at work quickly and comfortably until the day that one of their tires blows out resulting in a terrible accident in which they become paralyzed. This person made the choice to participate in the act of driving and knew the potential risks involved. Whose right is it to say that since they themselves don’t wish to take the risk of driving out of fear of the potential danger that all others should not be allowed to drive either and propose that cities and states should no longer build roads. In this world there will always be risks that surround us, as Americans it is our freedom of choice to decide which risks we feel comfortable participating in.

    • The issue of personal freedom is an important one, Joshua. I appreciate your thoughtfulness in tackling this issue and mentioning its relationship to marketing.
      Yes, we have the freedom to take risks. But I want to consider whether we should have the freedom to risk other lives (including those in the future) for the sake of our profit– or to manipulate information in such a way that urges others to take personal risks.
      And just on the topic of choosing risks, denial of side effects does not seem a particular rational basis for choice.
      Thanks for your thoughtful comment.

    • I wholly agree with the concept of choice. What concerns me, however, is that we are not always given the proper infomation to make an educated choice. When a pharma company downplays the health risks of a drug, people dont know what the actual risks are. I don’t think that this is an indication of a lack of intelligence of Americans. There is so much information and misinformation out there that it is difficult to decifer who to believe. In the end, people trust their doctors to prescribe the right medications for them. Unfortunately, many doctors are themselves uninformed or under the influence of slick salespersons.

      • You remind us of a very important point, Val. Proper knowledge is an essential ingredient in decision-making. We can’t make responsible decisions if we don’t know what the outcomes of our choices are. In this sense, it is part of our ethical responsibility to discern information on the results of our own actions–and not to hide or distort information in order to make a profit. On this latter point, much of the pharmaceutical industry is lacking. As you point out, many doctors get their information directly from pharmaceutical reps– and when tv ads are so numerous and misleading as well, we have a serious problem concerning our real choices. Investigative journalist Robert Whitaker points out that there is absolutely no research data that confirms the fallacy circulated by pharmaceuticals that psychiatric drugs correct any physical “imbalance” in the brain– the persistence of this belief in spite of the evidence is illustrative of the power of information manipulation. Some drugs work for some for reasons we don’t know– but the “chemical imbalance” idea is a total illusion.

      • That is a great point – that we don’t have the proper information to make an educated choice. And it isn’t even easy to obtain the proper information. Sifting through the sometimes highly technical language in the warnings pamphlet is difficult. And it is easy to misunderstand risks and statistics of the risks. Yes, doctors are often misinformed, but they are also often on the side of the medication. It seems impossible in our current healthcare system, but a holistic approach would probably eliminate many prescriptions. I have been in a doctor’s office for less than 5 minutes before being prescribed anti-depression medication. How can you get a picture of what a human needs after 5 minutes? I really just needed exercise and sunshine.

        • Indeed, Isabel. You might also be interested in checking out Robert Whitaker’s new book documenting the strange way in which the “chemical imbalance” story came to believed by both public and doctors despite absolutely no scientific basis to back this up.
          A holistic approach is not necessarily going to be sanctions by insurance companies– but in spite of this, the majority of US citizens have seen a “complementary medicine” practitioner.
          Information is not only essential for your doctor– but essential to allow her/him to share enough information with you so you can make informed health choices. And to be fair, I understand that between our culture of instant fixes and pharm ads on TV, doctors are often pressured for a prescription by their patients.

  49. It seems to me that the reason most “side effects” are so blatantly ignored is for money. If people stopped taking pills for certain illnesses, then the high payed pharm companies would lose money. The oil companies would go down the tubes if we stopped our addiction to gas, even the pesticide industry would suffer if each person took control of what they purchased. So people most likely just buy these things because they want to save money, and the culture has virtually taught them no other way.

  50. The huge response from the public asking for a medicine by name has inspired pharmaceutical companies to switch to the majority of their money being spent on marketing rather than research. I can’t even imagine the greater things they could do with that money instead of creating cheesy advertisements for a magic pill. Research time could be increased, hiring more scientists, developing better and safer medicines could all be done with this money. If the product is really worth it, it will self itself.

    • Good points, Morgan. But putting all this money into research instead of “cheesy” ads would cut back on short term profits. Obviously, we need to shift our priorities and values here.

      • I think that shifting our priorities and values is a very important thing to do when it comes to getting ethical products into the market. I think that an effort needs to be made to change the ethics and actions of consumers, producers, and controllers, like the government. Currently it seems to me that being an ethical producer of goods almost means an institutionalized negative impact on finances. I don’t think that this action was made intentionally but I think for a healthy world counter-actions need to be made.

        • You bring up an important issue here, Caroline: the ways in which penalties for doing the right thing and rewards for doing the wrong thing are built into our system. Unfortunately, much of this can be traced to the activity of lobbyists that no one voted into office-and whose economic motives are far removed from that of our general public. Fortunately, there are those businesses (as on CSRwire) who are interested in doing the right thing. And if the public supports them, we can actually change our economic reward system in the right direction.

    • I think that shifting our priorities and values is a very important thing to do when it comes to getting ethical products into the market. I think that an effort needs to be made to change the ethics and actions of consumers, producers, and controllers, like the government. Currently it seems to me that being an ethical producer of goods almost means an institutionalized negative impact on finances. I don’t think that this action was made intentionally but I think for a healthy world counter-actions need to be

      • You might look into the idea of “perverse subsidies”- -by which we reward those who create what we don’t want–and make healthier food for ourselves and our environment more experience: this is indeed a kind of “institutionalized” process.

  51. This essay was very interesting to me as a psychology major. I think this issue hit me square on when my friend, who was misdiagnosed and put on medicine, against his will (he was still a minor) to deal with his depression. As it turned out he wasn’t depressed but bipolar and the drug caused him to have an extreme manic episode that ended with jail. Not only was this caused by the fact that the effects of the medicine wasn’t completely known but also the other problem I see with medicine in general (but especially with mental illness) of over medicating everyone. We are too quick to put ourselves and our children on medicine. While I think that there are times that the risk is worth the benefits of medicine I think that medicine should be a decision chosen as a last resort.

    • Thank you for sharing this sad example of over-medication without knowledge (a very bad combination indeed) Caroline. This indicates the need for balance (as opposed to the profit motive) in treating those with any type of illness. And perhaps for re-defining medicine. How about the recipe of cleaning the toxics from our environment as a community treatment for cancer, as the President’s Cancer Panel urges?

  52. It is amazing the different side effects that are normal in drugs today. If you want to get better from one thing you have to get worse in another. I was talking to a pharmacist the other day and he said that one of the reasons why there are these side effects is because we are getting these ingredients from things that aren’t naturally occurring inside the human body. If instead we use ingredients that are common in the human body the side effects go away. Once again a look into how we are more concerned about ease than about getting it right.

    • It is amazing that so many side effects should be accepted as “normal”, Kyle. You have an excellent point that we might use ingredients in medicines that are natural enough so that our body recognizes them if we want safer options.

  53. The marketing and pushing of drugs and medical procedures without consideration of side effects is a topic that is very important to me. Companies and doctors are really good at pushing drugs and procedures, especially to those who are vulnerable, such as those in pain or who are depressed. As an example, during my pregnancy, labor, and after birth, I was scared, pushed, and convinced into taking many drugs. There were drugs to manage the pregnancy and prevent H1N1 virus. I was given several drugs to induce labor (which was unnecessary), drugs for the pain (made worse by the induction), drugs for the C-section that followed (would have been unnecessary if not for the previous induction drugs), drugs for my elevated blood pressure the following two weeks (from the stress of the induced and complicated labor), and then drugs for post-partum depression (a common and natural thing that passed in a few weeks without drugs). I am convinced (in retrospect, not being vulnerable anymore) that none of these drugs and the resulting C-section were necessary, but just a cascade, one creating the need for the next. And then there all the vaccines and medications for my brand new baby!
    There really does need to be more consideration of the side effects of things. Quick fixes, like medication for our mind and body, and like the quick fixes we are chasing to fix our environmental problems are not going to solve anything. We need to focus on the cause of the problem, health and environmental, and rehabilitate that, not treat the symptoms of the problems.

    • Thanks for sharing your story, Isabel. I guess no one bothered to inquire as to whether all this tinkering with a serious natural process (not to mention, your own psyche in– as you point out– your very vulnerable state) might have had anything to do with you feeling a bit depressed about the outcome?
      I am sorry you had to go throw this (and I know you are not alone)– but I congratulate you on getting your balance and perspective back.

  54. This article really evoked some emotions for me. Its so true that everything is just a game, a slight of hand, ment to distract and delay until the power holder gets what they want. And that we so conditioned to follow it! We have allowed ourselves to be brainwashed to see the happy people and ignore the warning voices. This is happening everywhere, politics, pharmaceuticals, any kind of marketing, wars. Even the idea of just bulldozing over the land and masking the erosion, water quality, fire hazards and habitation loss with images of growth, family development, economic gains and success. We are fooling ourselves and accept being fooled. I suppose it’s frustrating for me because i know that i too fall victim to this and fear that change will be even harder to come by in a society run by trickery.

    • Seeing the “happy people” and ignoring the warning signs, as you point out, is a dangerous kind of denial and selective attention that we practice throughout this society. Your comment leads me to think about the fact that this habit of mind is something media teaches us beyond what it sells us.
      I think it is unlikely that anyone raised in this society does not fall victim to it at some time– we need to think holistically in order to avoid it.
      Thanks for your comment.

  55. Doctors are trusted because they spend so much time and money studying the human body. We, as patients, put our trust in them to help us feel better and to fix our wrongs. However, what the average patient doesn’t understand is the doctors are being wooed by the pharmaceutical companies just as patients are being wooed by doctors. The pharm companies used to give medical offices great kickbacks to get them to sell their products and that’s why certain doctors prescribe certain brands of drugs. The patient is blind being lead by the greedy and the wooed doctor. It’s a sad circle of fixing only to have other problems crop up, all the while we are poisoning the waterways and earth with the runoff of drugs from our bodies and from discarded medications.

    • If I am not mistaken, the pharmaceuticals still give doctors incentives to use their products–even if outright bribery and kickbacks are not (or shouldn’t be) legal: there are plenty of stories of the ways in which doctors have been recruited as pharm spokespersons. Sometimes it is just a matter of the doctor’s having little time to inform themselves– so they let the pharm rep do it for them.

  56. While I don’t agree with every example given in this post, I agree with the tone of the article. My grandmother died several years ago from a new medication that almost immediately killed her- after being put on so much medication that she had to choose between eating and taking her pills. Is the damage we caused in Iraq really worse than what Sadam did to his own people? I don’t know if that conversation belongs here and am unsure if I agree in full about your ideas about Bush. However, years later, we do know that there was a great deal of smoke and mirrors going on and America feels duped. We should feel duped about many things on our own soil as well, and this article makes a firm point that we cannot continue to hide from the facts.

    • Thanks for your response, Raquel. I would hope that we might analyze these dynamics without getting into politics: it just happens that the president responsible for the EPA that pressured over half of polled scientists at that organization to hide their findings if they were unfavorable to business seems such a blatant example. I was suggesting that we assess the “side effects” of any actions we take (and maybe change our vocabulary away from “collateral damage”– which makes such things part of an inevitability rather than a decision for which we are responsible).
      I dislike the term, “friendly fire” as well.

  57. Interestingly (and I’m sure you’ve heard this by now), the more side effects a drug lists during their ad, the more the drug sells. People feel that if a drug has side-effects than it must have a strong impact. Somehow this has become a good thing in their minds. It makes me wonder if the analogy still holds true and if the “sleight of hand” goes deeper than it at first seems. Perhaps when people hear about the “side-effects” of war, they actually buy into it more. Before the war, we were told about the side effects of war; we were told about the elimination of weapons of mass destruction; we were told that economically hard times would come and we should weather it out; we were told that casualties would occur and that it was an inevitable part of war. Maybe these things actually helped convince us to go to war because we felt that war would have a strong impact. After long enough, however, people grew tired of it and wanted it stopped. I fear that we still haven’t learned our lesson and future leaders could abuse our weakness just as past leaders did.

    • Actually, I had not heard this idea about side effects and assessment of potency, Mark.
      I can see that it runs along with the reasoning that power great enough to cure is also power great enough to kill. But it seems twisted logic to assume that we ought therefore to look for power great enough to kill in order to pick out drugs powerful enough to cure what ails us! This also goes along with the original definition of “alleopathic” medicine– which cured because of its dramatic effect. This medicine (our current trend) threw out the “do no harm” priority in terms of ethics for the sake of this drama.
      Thanks for indicating a whole new way of looking at this for me. It is interesting to ponder what aspect of our worldview leads to this line of reasoning!

  58. I have taken drugs for a different health illness such as asthma. This was hard at the time but luckily I grew out of it. I now I only use the medication when I get asthma attacks which is very rare. It seems like we are putting more emphasis on the use of medication for every illness. I my case it helped out a lot, however what helped me grow out of it was no the medication. I believe that it was that I lived a more active lifestyle through sports and other activities.
    I am also doing a paper on the treatment of alcoholism and drug therapy. One of the interesting things that I have found out was that the drug treatment alone did not work. It was only when the counseling therapy in addition to drug treatment did the drugs have an effect. This is another example of how drugs could be useful if they are done correctly.

    • Thanks for sharing this information from your own experience and research, Javier. It is not that we NEVER should use drugs, but that they have their place–and we are so much more than a compounding of chemicals when it comes to healing.

  59. I have to begin by relating a story about some of the good effects that some drugs have. I was diagnosed with panic disorder, and was starting to have a nervous breakdown. There were things in my life at the time that I kept pushing to the back burner because one thing after another happened, and I never had the chance to deal with any one of them. Also, there were things that happened in my childhood that I never properly dealt with. I found a wonderful doctor who, during our first appointment, simply sat and listened to me talk for almost 2 hours. I knew I needed counseling, which she was happy to give me a referral for, but she also suggested an antidepressant. I was very set against it because I don’t like to put things like that into my body, but I agreed to give it a try, since she was willing to treat my whole person. I did insist on taking the minimal effective dose possible.The first couple of weeks were hell: my anxiety, while not occurring for as long of spans as previously (for example, the 4-hour series of anxiety attacks I had one night at work), but they were occurring more frequently; also, while not suicidal per se, I knew that I couldn’t live like that any more. Then, a miracle happened. My anxiety was held at bay, I was able to think clearly for the first time in quite a while, I felt like I was actually “here” (as opposed to everything seeming surreal), and I was sleeping better than I had in years. My doctor discovered that, along with the psychological stuff, my brain wasn’t producing enough serotonin, and the minimal dosage of the medication helps my body create just enough so that everything is ok. (I’m still on the minimal dosage, by the way, and have been for over a year now). My point is, I think there are some drugs that truly can be life savers.

    Having said that (and I know this is going to seem like a 180 degree turnaround), I also think of people as “sheeple.” They follow the herd blindly without trying to find out what is going on. I think the shell game is a good analogy in this instance – a sleight of hand. We are constantly being bombarded with commercials for cure-alls, and, as Dr. Holden said, “viewers ignore the voice-over that hastens through the list of side effects.” My son and I listen to them. In fact, we jokingly add to them things like, “May cause global warming, ovarian cancer in men, the apocalypse.” It seems as though the risks outweigh the benefits (and quite heftily, I might add) with a lot of them. There is one line in this article that is particularly frightening to me: “…large pharmaceutical companies have recently shifted their major investment from research to marketing.” Wait…stop the bus. These companies, who must gain approval from the FDA in order to sell their products, have shifted their major investment from research to marketing? If they aren’t doing the research, then where are they getting their data that they send to the FDA to show that the drugs aren’t harmful (or that the benefits outweigh the side effects)? I’m astounded…and yet, it doesn’t surprise me.

    Unfortunately, it all boils down to the fact that people think they need someone to tell them what to do, how to be, how to look, what to buy, etc. (in this case, governmental agencies and the drug companies). We need “leadership,” and, unfortunately, that “leadership” is in bed with the drug companies (or oil companies or development companies or [insert your choice here]). They are lining their pockets with kickbacks, so of course they want us to buy the product(s), and to hell with the side effects. The analogy of former President Bush using these tactics in starting the war is a great one. He fed on people’s fears of terrorism (via “weapons of mass destruction”), and told them that they needed for this war to happen in order to end it…meanwhile, 10 years later…

    • Hi Kim, it is wonderful that you got the support you needed from a caring counselor that listened to you for as long as you needed to be listened to. What your comment indicates, I think, is the need for balance and personal choice. We don’t really know how or why this drug seemed to work for you, but no one should take your experience of healing from you. My own perspective is that whatever healing takes place in our bodies takes place with our body’s assent–and there is hardly anything more likely to elicit that than your caring therapist.
      What we do know is that there is not a single study indicating that such anguish as you experience is due to a “chemical imbalance” that can be remedied by a drug. (See award-winning journalist Robert Whitaker’s research on this). Diabetes is such a chemical imbalance, but not anxiety–at least not according to the research we have so far– though that does not mean we might not discover it one day.
      Telling another how to be or think, as you say, is a serious problem. Just as you took charge of your health because you did not wish to live in such pain (and decided on your dosage of this drug and how long to take it), we need to make decisions to cure the ill health of our country– as those (and this is my own opinion) in the “occupy movement” are currently alerting us.
      Thank you for your comment.

  60. Balancing the benefits of medications with the risk and side effects is a conundrum of gigantic proportions. The aforementioned urinary tract disorder medication that caused some of its takers to commit suicide is a very good example of what can happen with over-consumption/over-prescription of medications.

    I have to take two medications daily, or I cease to function as a person. I have to balance the risks of these medications against the benefits they provide me. That said, I couldn’t tell you the side effects of any antibiotic I’ve ever been prescribed. I don’t take antibiotics as a general rule anymore, nor do I get flu shots. (The flu isn’t going to kill a young and fairly healthy person like me, anyway.)

    This whole balancing of benefits or risks is the very problem with the wars we are *still* embroiled in. Bush’s “collateral damage” was never more evident to me than when my husband was in Fallujah in 2004. A National Guard unit did not check for friendlies in the area before firing ten howitzer rounds on my husband’s platoon. Several Marines were severely injured. Nothing ever came of this, save for a snippet in the Marine Corps Times in late November.

    The problem here is that the National Guard was never supposed to be used for purposes such as international wars. The National Guard are supposed to be a safety net in the United States, here when disasters such as Hurricane Katrina happen and such. They do not receive as great of training as is needed to be in environments like the heavy combat of Fallujah at that time. This was not the fault of these National Guardsmen, this was the failure of our government and DoD to prepare these men.

    Is this the “collateral damage” Mr. Bush was talking about? We send poorly or undertrained service members into war and expect them to know exactly what they’re doing, always. Not only does this cost their lives, it costs the lives of others who might be casualties of this negligence in training and preparation. It’s the “uniformed” consumer scenario. We are balancing the “benefits” of the war over the “risks”, or that is the pill that Cheney (Bush’s puppet master) was selling. The majority of the American public swallowed it, but the resisters knew what was going on and what the real price would be.

    There is always a cost to “benefits over risks” decision making.

    • The conundrum of balance you mention here, Crystal, is a very important way of seeing this. I might mention that part of this is NOT creating “diseases” such as urinary incontinence and labeling them “disorders” with the attendant need to medicate them– as the pharmaceutical industry has done in certain cases.
      I am glad that you have found the medications that support your well being.
      I am also very sorry to hear about your husband’s experience–and the injuring of those Marines (I take it from this story) that were close to him.
      You are right that the National Guard was never intended–nor trained to be placed in such situations. This is a point that is coming out more and more today–and as you note, on the one hand, drawing these men into war means an absence of responders to natural disasters at home– and on the other, they need training to be put in this very different situation than they are currently trained. for. I can imagine not only the tragic injuries sustained by the Marines here, but the trauma of the men who did the shooting–and what they must now live with for the rest of their lives.
      Thanks for sharing examples that give us much to ponder.

    • Crystal, I can somehwat relate to you and your husbands story. My cousin was/is part of the National gaurd and spent the majority of his time working at the Hanford nuclear facility on the Columbia River. He was deployed to Iraq last September. He, along with the rest of his unit were subject to multiple IED explosions because they lacked the proper knowledge that could have helped them identify the IEDs. He is now back in the states, but as a result must undergo several corrective surgeries. Not only did the general public swallow a pill, but so did our men in uniform. Im not sure if he thought he was fully prepared and educated but I know that he felt he had a duty to uphold. This again demostrantes the full steam ahead perspective. We send our unprepaired men and women into battle and do not first think of the consequences or “collaterol damage”.

      • My sympathy goes out to you and the rest of your family with respect to your cousin’s experience, Justine. I think the saddest thing here is the fact that “he felt he had a duty to uphold”. That is certainly no way to treat those who are committed to caring for our community by putting their lives on the line to do it.
        I think there are some reports out on the ill preparedness of National Guard units for active duty overseas.

  61. How can lives be considered collateral damage? To say its ok that our fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, sons and daughters died in a violent act because that’s just how war goes. It’s astonishing that the number of dead American soldiers outnumbers the deaths under Hussein’s rule. When we talk about lives as collateral damage in war right after talking about death by prescribed medication, it is easy to relate and interchange the two. Well yeah your joints hurt and you can take this pill, but your life may just be chalked up to collateral damages among the pharmaceutical companies and other pill takers. This article kind of ties in with the “Burning Down the House” article, in that this is a “full steam ahead” mentality in which “we don’t dwell on the disastrous potential of our power” and we are distracted and blinded by the sleight of hand of everything from T.V. commercials to our world leaders. We are so dependent of simple, convenient drugs like ibuprofen and allergy pills that we may all come crumbling down if all of the prescribes medicines and over the counter pills were to disappear tomorrow. This is the same for agricultural chemicals and pesticides. We would have no idea how to function without them.

    • You express appropriate outrage that the deaths of persons we love might be labeled “collateral damage”, Justine.
      It seems that the average number of side effects of current pharmaceuticals is 70 per drug…”full stem ahead” indeed.

  62. I had no trouble visualizing the pharmaceutical ads mentioned here. My fiancé and I don’t bring in cable, and I’m always reminded of the rigors of trying to watch something on television when I visit my parents (who actually just cancelled theirs, too). It seems like every few minutes, just when what we’re watching gets interesting, queue the commercials (and hey, that product they’re advertising sounds good all of the sudden, I think I’ll grab some during the break!).

    My family is fortunately fairly healthy, and I’m often baffled at the long (and fast) list of possible side effects of medications for non-life-threatening ailments. I personally think that many of the risks might be even worse than what it is that the chemicals are claiming to alleviate. I understand that some individuals are in a higher state of reliance/need than others, and that some conditions are well treated with medications. But as my mother so nicely put it, she’d rather have to run to the bathroom during dinner than get an organ transplant.

    The ads we view are adept at making such inconveniences as leaving the dinner table (how many people do you know who eat at their dining room table with china and linens on weeknights?) seem like social catastrophes that simply must be put to rest with “insert new and improved and re-patented medication here”. In many cases, it seems that companies are playing on our desires to take a pill and fix our problems, rather than address possible lifestyle or environmental factors that may be causing them. If, as was mentioned about the agreement not to show war-related casualties and stymie consumer purchases, consumers were shown images of potential side effects resulting from the use of certain medications, it might quell their desire to buy those products. Come to think of it, that’s probably why we don’t get pictures of the people that the medication didn’t help, enjoying instead images of fit, happy and socially adjusted individuals that embody what we are searching for in a pill.

    • Great balance here, Adreinne. We might even say that the overblown ads detract from the proper use of these medications for those who really need it. I laughed out loud at your mother’s statement that she would rather run to the bathroom during dinner than get an organ transplant. Or perhaps rather than commit suicide: it turns out that one such incontinence medication has been linked directly to a spate of suicides( its being a nerve depressant that worked too well– it sent its users into severe states of depression.)
      It is important to consider just what we wish to solve by taking a pill–and what this attitude leads us to do.

    • I have to say I quite agree that the lies in TV advertising are disheartening (I also don’tt haveTVV service, instead I have netflix and watchTVv there and at a variety of commercial free internet sites). Although I rely on modern medications to breathe (an inhaled steroid keeps my asthma at bay, and, in my case, quite literally keeps me from dying), many medications that people are on are unnecessary and not worth the risk. I used to be on more drugs than I’m on now (I was taking at least three additional medications for minor ailments like the ones you mentioned), but they didn’t seem to be worth the side effects they caused, and I no longer take “optional” drugs, only the ones that are absolutely necessary. Even necessary drugs have side effects. The asthma meds keep my lungs from improving (not that going off them would lead to improvement since I would be unable to function and would probably end up leaving this world in short order). Sometimess meds arenecessaryy, but often they are optional, and most of the medicines advertised on television are the ones that are the least necessary and the most optional.

      • Sometimes meds are indeed necessary, Megan–and should be marketed in a responsible choice-oriented way (rather than this high pressure hype). And there is this: much modern asthma (whose incidence is spiraling upward among young as well as old) is linked to particulate, chemical toxins and traffic fumes. Cleaning up our environment is also a way to get you and others a bit more relief for your lungs– though that may not be all you need given the current damage you describe to your lungs.
        I am glad you are taking good care of yourself.

  63. This article actually had a point that made me laugh. Its true that drugs seem to cause more illness than they cure. I’ve become so used to his that the side effects are the only part in the ads that I listen to. I’m constantly listening for that slight pause and then the phrase “and in some rare cases death.” Its sad that this has become so common that it is predicatable.

    • One recent comment here made me laugh–when the commentator’s mother declared she would rather run to the bathroom during dinner than get an organ transplant.
      Death is a side effect one would hope to avoid (!). I wonder how this list goes out of audience minds such that they still sell any of these drugs.

  64. I agree that the advertisement of drugs on television is the equivalent of a huckster’s shell game. Many of the newest drugs are proverbial snake oil anyway. A personal experience that speaks to this occurred a few years ago when a dear friend started taking a drug that was advertised on national TV. My friend, whom I had then known for five years, was the most kind and loving person you could ask for, she wouldn’t hurt a fly, living her life to care for others. However, when she was young she made the mistake of taking up cigarette smoking and is unfortunately an addict. She started taking Chantix after seeing the ads on TV to try to quit. What she didn’t know was that the drug would cause her to lash out and try to physically harm her husband and two small sons. She was never violent before this incident, and, after she stopped taking the drug, hasn’t been violent since (about 2 years now). Fortunately, no one was actually hurt in this particular incident, but I’m sure there were others where someone did get injured, even onto loss of life. To this day, my friend blames only herself for what happened that day, instead of the drug that I’m sure is the culprit. We need to be very careful what we take, especially in the case of psychotropic drugs. We don’t want to end up as a suicide caused by antidepressants, or, worse, like my friend, bearing guilt for the rest of our lives after having hurt someone we truly loved. When will we learn that a pill is not the answer either to our personal, or our societal, problems?

    • Thank you for sharing this sad story of the dangerous side effects caused by this drug. I am sorry that your friend and her family went through this! This particular drug is causing so many problems, I hope it will be taken off the market soon.

  65. I have a rather personal response to this article. As a person who has relied on Western medicine to survive, and been on more prescription medications that most people will experience in their lifetimes, I can say that sometimes Western medicine works. I do agree that some of the side-effects are rather ridiculous, and being put on additional medications to address side effects is awful (though I can see great similarities between additional medication to address side-effects and additional environmental efforts to address environmental disasters that we’ve caused). Many medications are over-prescribed, but prove very useful for those who actually need them. There is also a distinct lack of traditional medicine (or indigenous or Eastern) which can also be very helpful with significantly lower side-effects. I think that these methods are often more sustainable environmentally as well. In many countries (not the US) “alternative” medicine (acupuncture, herbalists) is covered by insurance. I think we might do well to start practicing more of these forms of lower-impact, preventative practices in this country.

    • Thanks for sharing your personal experience here, Anna. I like the term “complementary” rather than “alternative” medicine, which indicates to me that the many types of medicine might support one another.
      I would never say we should throw out Western medicine–but I also think on balance that we should point out the abuses of big pharmaceuticals (including making up research and fake research journals) for the sake of profit.
      You have an excellent point about insurance for things such as acupuncture– herbalists, for instance, study for a medical certification in parts of Europe– as consumers demand more access to such techniques, things will hopefully change. That is what has driven the changes so far.
      And as for side effects, it is important to attend to the whole in such a way that we don’t destroy with one hand what we are trying to heal with the other.

  66. I think that today, more than ever, everyone is looking for quick fixes to solve problems. Not to over generalize, but I think that most people are only thinking a day or so ahead into the future, and so anything long term (longer than a week out) isn’t planned for and comes as a total surprise. If we are sick, we take medicine and don’t think about the long term side effects. If the drain is clogged, we pour drain-o down the pipes and don’t think about what river it will eventually drain to, cause pollution and kill the habitat.

    I remember a story that goes something like this:
    2 men are at the bottom of a river and notice that fish are dying. They pull the dead fish out one after the other. Suddenly they have a pile of dead fish. They recruit the whole village to help them pull the dead fish out of the river-working as fast as they can. At the end of the day they are exhausted. However, it never occurs to anyone to go to the top of the river and see why all the fish are dying in the first place.

    We need to address challenges head on, but consider the long term effects. We need to be thinking ahead. We need to learn from our mistakes. We need to remember to walk up river, to see what is causing the mayhem down stream. Quick fixes are short term. And when all of the “quick fixes” pile up, there will be no quick fixes to solve the long term problems.

    • The tunnel vision that comes with “quick fixes” certainly does negate attention to a more holistic view that might notice that what we are gaining on the one hand may be undercutting us on the other, Rudy.
      The story you give is actually retold in another essay here– I am glad it is getting passed around, since it is an important point to ponder in the “quick fix” context.
      Another way of putting this is that instead of fixing symptoms, we need to understand and treat the disease that causes them.

  67. We need to stop looking and taking the easy way out in these types of situations because it is more convenient at the time. We need to really start assessing each situation and thinking about all of the effects and potential consequences possible. Clearly, we are going to have to pay the price for these irrational choices later down the line. We have been tricked into seeing other key points and end up missing the real picture.
    In reference to what is going on in the pharmaceutical drug world I was lucky enough to grow up in a family that does not rely, depend or abuse any pharmaceutical drug. I try to be as natural as I can and stay away from putting chemicals into my body. I don’t see how people can still rely on drugs like these even with the side effects evident and exposed.

    • Good for you and your family in your avoidance of abuse of pharmaceutical drugs, Shaylene.
      I don’t think the issue is whether we rely on these drugs– some obviously need some of them- but the consequences of developing and using them in a context that sees only part of their results. We need a holistic approach- which, of course, nature has!
      And it seems that holism could be applied to some other social choices we make as well.

  68. My preferred way to lessen the swindling is not to look the huckster in the eye. Is there really anything worthwhile on commercial sponsored television anyway? We are being sold a bill of goods that we didn’t ask for in a calculated effort to drive profits into the coffers of giant businesses. I realize that it is much bigger than not watching T.V. or reading advertisements but it appears to me that current culture’s “easy button” demand for everything just fuels the fire. Why cook long grain when I can get minute rice and save 59 minutes? I say that tongue-in cheek knowing it not only tastes better, but there is actually nutritional value gained from taking some time in the process. We save time but will need to eat more to gain the missing nutrition. The same can be said with a lot of over the counter medicines. Often they just ease or mask the symptoms until the body heals. In the end, the body needs to heal and would be better off with some miso or homemade chicken noodle soup than chemicals. As for the powerful pharmaceutical drugs being pandered with horrible side effects, the lack of ethics here is criminal and I cannot believe the FDA can approve products that are inadequately tested or proven to have toxic side effects. Companies are leveraging human fears and emotions through slick marketing to sell their potions and the consumers keep going back to the well for more. How do we plug this well?

    • I like your point about avoiding these commercials, Scott. And as an aside, you can cook rice for 45 minutes without standing over it the whole time. Just takes a little planning to get it on before you want to eat it.
      “Leveraging fear”, as you put it, certainly should not be rewarded with monetary benefits!

  69. Americans are afraid of everything. I can’t remember where I heard a lecture about this – possibly Michael Parenti. They take drugs because they are afraid of what is ailing them, they spray bugs because they are afraid they will get into their house. We go to war and kill people from other countries becuase we are afraid of them – they are portrayed as having religous beliefs that compel them to kill christian’s or some other invented defect. I agree a lot of this is because we are manipulated into believing there is so much danger in the world by the media, our politicians, and others that play on our fears to sell us something. The fact that 65% of our population is on prescription drugs is very alarming, especially when you consider all the other unhealthy habits we have (tobacco, alcohol, processed foods). I really wonder what our society will look like in another 20 years. One other topic I want to touch on is the relationship between mad cow disease and bovine encephalphy – I am not sure what kind of correlation was enventually found, or if they stopped feeding beef cattle rendered cow feed. Perhaps you might know?

  70. (new)

    I found this as an Interesting way to look at how things are worked in today’s economy and how they impact all of us. I did not know that there was suspected link between lawn fertilizer and autism; however I have heard the link regarding mercury in vaccines. This makes me think back to a pet I had who passed away from vaccine induced fibrocarcinoma. Turns out the binder they were using had been possibly linked to this form of cancer. I wonder if that binder is present in our vaccinations? However, I also have kids and I have not opted to forgo any vaccinations for them. You worry that they could have an adverse reaction but they could also have an adverse reaction to the disease if they weren’t to have to vaccination and come down with it. I also think that the bit about perhaps individuals would choose to not use the medication if they were given the laundry list of possible side effects in a more sobering manner, is this not why they also remind you about them at the doctors office? My doctors always tell me the side effects, but I also ask a lot of questions and when I get home if I am still not sure I go online and do my own research.

    • It sounds like you are a wise medical consumer for both you and your kids, Brandie.
      I think balance and thought is what is needed here of the kind you exemplify. And by the way, you can request vaccines without mercury preservative, though they are often in very short supply.
      I am sorry you lost your pet in this way.

  71. Recently, the Center for Disease Control launched an ad campaign that shows former smokers and the side-effects they are suffering from tobacco use.”Using graphic, true-to-life images, the ads are intended to shock people into giving up their smoking habit .”
    It would be interesting if such a campaign were started in order to show the effects that pharmaceutical drugs were having on people: stroke victims, diseased livers, autistic children, corpses…
    Medication has become so ingrained in our society that you can “fix” nearly everything that is “wrong” with you. One of the main efforts towards eliminating the incessant use of drugs needs to be a shift in attitude about what needs “fixing”. I wonder if medical communities would be willing to approach this more holistic move?
    The story in “Ecofeminism” told by Shiva about her experience while birthing her child (and how a doctor insisted she needed a c-section even though she was able to naturally birth her child), is just one instance of what I’m sure are millions of instances of doctors insisting that they know more about their patients’ bodies and needs than the patient themselves.
    Medical work on a patient should be co-operative. A patient should be fully disclosed on the side-effects, perhaps including graphic images, given an alternative and holistic method, and then make a decision on what they want to do for their health.
    I know that I have often taken the word of the doctor as being the only way I could deal with certain problems; I have restless leg syndrome, which really isn’t a big deal, but led to me losing sleep sometimes. I went to a doctor and she prescribed a medication. I told my mother about it (a retired nurse) and she asked, “there’s a medication for that now? We used to just tell people to take Vitamin D.” I never took the medication, but took some Vitamin D. Voila! Restless leg syndrome was gone. Why didn’t the doctor know what my mother knew? Or, maybe she did…

    • You are fortunate that your mother knew this, Rebecca! I don’t know what causes the impulse in doctors to prescribe new designer drugs when there are old standbys in the wings.
      But I do think you have an important point that each of us is the primary authority on our own body–and a doctor is there to work in partnership with us in facilitating our healing.
      And as for cigarettes– I understand that the cigarette companies are fighting placing these graphic depictions on cigarette packages– in spite of their own advertising thrust to addict younger and younger smokers. Recent corporate memos indicate that is where the targeted growth for their product is.

    • Rebecca, I though it was great that your Mom had such a simple solution for your problem. I have had a personal experience that your story made me think about. It relates to your comment about knowing our own bodies and how medicine should be collaborative (a theme I see reoccurring in Grandmothers). I went to have a small anesthetic procedure and I asked the doctor which anesthetics he was using. He was completely surprised that I asked! I don’t think doctors are used to their patients asking what the medications are or what they do, but it’s a good habit to get into. I also agree with your statement about “fixing”. Our culture does seem to have this incessant need to “fix” everything. I think this maybe related to sense of power through technology. That nothing can stand in our way with technology by our side. But technology is only as good as the people who make it and we are a flawed species whether we want to think so or not.

      • Some thoughtful considerations here, Lindsay. I would agree that our choices of technology need substantial evaluation to be effective in the way we think (hope?) they will be.

    • I like the story on restless leg syndrome. I happen to also have it and when I heard there was a pill for it I just laughed. What next? a pill for people who “roll” in their sleep? It just gets more and more ridiculous. I think the marketing of drugs needs to be regulated, or not allowed to be in TV ads like the UK. This would make it so pills for Restless Leg Syndrome can’t get advertised and gullible people won’t be asking their doctors for it.

      • Thanks for sharing this perspective: there is some critique about drug companies making up new “diseases” in order to sell the pills to remedy them. Urinary incontinence is one case. Whereas it CAN be a serious problem- or indicate one– it is not a widespread “illness”. And indeed, one of the pills for incontinence was causing severe depression in those who took it. There have been some suicides attributed to it (it is now off the market). But as you indicate, we need some perspective here.

  72. I find this article interesting because part of my profession is peddling drugs to put it crudely. Granted, they are for animals, but the same principles apply. People still want a quick fix. A pill should be a cure for everything, no matter the side effects. In fact, I have seen this thought process in action. People are often devastated when medications don’t work to fix a underlying disease that is by far more powerful then our technology to “control it”. There is even a degree of denial involved that we can’t correct something one hundred percent with a medication. This kind of short sighted instant gratification mind set that is present in our Western culture sets us up for a lot of failure economically, spiritually, medically, and the list goes on. Accepting that we cannot force all things to change beneath our “bull dozers” is a first painful step to realization of a better path. In general, I personally don’t believe human beings are hard wired to take the long view. It’s something we have to learn. Hopefully, it doesn’t come at the expense of the side effects that we are starting to see emerge. These rising numbers of autism, Alzheimers, diabetes, and other diseases are the warning signs that are starting to catch up to us. I only hope that our eyes can be opened enough to see the connection and start to address the underlying causes.

    • An important point you present for consideration is the way that the “control” and “instant gratification” mindset sets those who hold them up for failure on all the levels you indicate. This easily becomes an addictive process– so that when that particular pill fails us, we want another and another…in a negative feedback loop. It also sets up an “if a little is good, more is better” attitude– which is definitely not true when it entails mixing of drugs– or of toxic chemicals, for that matter.
      I agree with you about the failed nature of “aggressive” medicine. Indeed, the current medicine now practiced in the mainstream US is “alleopathic” medicine, which literally, means “heroic” medicine. It pushed aside gentler forms of medicine in the 1800s, with its “drama”, even though it turned out to be more dangerous for the patient. “Do no harm”, so it seems, was no longer the primary medical ethic of the Hippocratic Oath.
      That is not to say that Western medicine does not have considerable benefit used in the right way and in balance– but as you point out, the notion of take a pill and making it go away, does not serve healing in any way. It also turns our attention away from the context that may cause illness. Environmental causes of cancer and heart disease and asthma, for instance.

  73. I have a rather personal response to this article. As a person who has relied on Western medicine to survive, and been on more prescription medications that most people will experience in their lifetimes, I can say that sometimes Western medicine works. I do agree that some of the side-effects are rather ridiculous, and being put on additional medications to address side effects is awful (though I can see great similarities between additional medication to address side-effects and additional environmental efforts to address environmental disasters that we’ve caused). Many medications are over-prescribed, but prove very useful for those who actually need them. There is also a distinct lack of traditional medicine (or indigenous or Eastern) which can also be very helpful with significantly lower side-effects. I think that these methods are often more sustainable environmentally as well. In many countries (not the US) “alternative” or complementary medicine (acupuncture, herbalists) is covered by insurance. I think we might do well to start practicing more of these forms of lower-impact, preventative practices in this country.

    • Thanks for sharing your personal experience here, Anna. I like the term “complementary” rather than “alternative” medicine, which indicates to me that the many types of medicine might support one another.
      I would never say we should throw out Western medicine–but I also think on balance that we should point out the abuses of big pharmaceuticals (including making up research and fake research journals) for the sake of profit.
      You have an excellent point about insurance for things such as acupuncture– herbalists, for instance, study for a medical certification in parts of Europe– as consumers demand more access to such techniques, things will hopefully change. That is what has driven the changes so far.
      And as for side effects, it is important to attend to the whole in such a way that we don’t destroy with one hand what we are trying to heal with the other.

  74. This article was filled with facts that I just did not know, this is a great thing! I was shocked that medical procedures are number three on the top causes of death in the United States. In regards to medicine and capitalism, it is a sad reality that most people trust or want to trust those in authority, in this case doctors. I’ve heard so many people in my life ignore their drug addictions simply because “medications are legal and they were prescribed by the doctor”. We are constantly told by doctors that they have weighed the side effects against the benefits and would only prescribe this medication if it was “what was best for them”. How does a doctor know in a fifteen minute appointment which antidepressant or anti-anxiety medication to prescribe you? How safe should we really feel?

    My mother worked for a few years in a doctor’s office, where she saw firsthand how doctors would prescribe medication solely because their “friend” in the pharmaceutical business is selling it.

    I’m not saying that there are not great doctors or that some instances do require medication. I am just weary of how many people are over drugging themselves, due to addiction, naivety and a get it quick promise. I just ask everyone to please read the labels of every medication they are about to put in their mouths, consider the side effects and make as educated of a decision as possible.

    • Odessa – I appreciate your post! Having been almost solely responsible for my severely disabled son for nearly 27 years, I understand first-hand how easy it is to place one’s trust on doctors. And, yes, his doctors and my own over the years have fallen prey to pushing drugs (and surgeries, I might add) in the name of “what’s best” for him/me. It was only through my own due diligence that I made decisions on medications/surgeries for my son that I felt comfortable giving consent. There was one point in his life when a doctor said he thought he should have hip replacement surgery…my initial response was “Okay, if you think so.” I waited a few weeks and did my research and then called his office and said, “No, I won’t agree to the surgery.” This was wholly based on my research and realizing that this surgery would not, in the long run, be a true benefit for my son. I feel it’s our responsibility as consumers to do the research on any medical advice we’re given and not give in to the moment when a doctor prescribes a particular medication/therapy/surgery.

      I’m with you when you say “I’m not saying that there are not great doctors or that some instances do require medication,” but it’s incumbent on us to do the research and make a final INFORMED decision on what’s best for us and our families.

      • You have an exceedingly important point about being informed about the decisions you make. How fortunate your son was to have such an advocate in you!
        The other point is that we need to make information more readily available to both patients and doctors– doctors, in instance, are not often given full info on side effects by pharm reps.

        • Absolutely! The information I gathered was not easy to find and took a great deal of time. Making information readily available is very important and necessary! I have horror stories about the last 16 months of my son’s life that I won’t share here, but had information been readily available…and, most importantly, had DOCTORS been more informed…my son may have not had to suffer those last 16 months in a hospital.

        • I am sorry that your son and you had to suffer in this way– especially since some of this seems not have been necessary. It seems you have a personal commitment in changing this for others– we surely need your effort.

    • Good balance in pointing out the good doctors– and the need for certain medications in certain situations. But I think you are absolutely right that we use pharmaceuticals way out of proportion to their actual necessity–and there is a tragically addictive impulse in this.

    • Odessa,
      I feel like you hit the nail on the head in the one of the biggest shortcomings of medicine. I’m planning on going to med school and one of the reasons I want to go is because I want to help individuals with their problems. But I feel like going to the pharmacy isn’t always going to solve your problem. I was appalled that when one of my friends went the urgent care that they were offered 4 different drugs, all doing different things, and were told to choose one or two. It didn’t even seem like these doctors cared about what was actually going on with their patient, nor did it seem like they were actually considering if the drugs would interact negatively when used together. I don’t think that’s what medicine is about and that’s why I want to go into that field: to actually interact with my patients and to have compassion, rather than just a job. So I agree with you wholeheartedly and I really hope that medicine changes for the better.

      • Cheers for you in your goal of going into medicine– we need doctors who care about health. On balance, insurance carriers (HMOs) are pressuring doctors to take more patients and spend less time with them–and given all the new pharmaceuticals out there, it is difficult for doctors to keep abreast. We need a different direction–I am glad you want to be part of this.
        And there ARE doctors out there who practice medicine in a way truly committed to the health of their patients. You might be interested in looking into the Collaborate on Health and the Environment. There are many committed and caring doctors there.
        Some of the bravest doctors I know are active in Doctors without Borders.

  75. This article reminded me of a museum exhibit I saw displayed in London this summer. It was a long cloth about 6 feet wide and at least 50 feet long with tiny 1x1inch pouches. Inside each pouch were a few different pills and it was representative of the average amount of prescribed pills a person now ingests in their lifetime. It was very eye opening to see and it very much relates to this article. As a society we are in this endless “addiction” to pills in which we seek them out for even the smallest illness and it is causing unintended side effects, which are sometimes worse than the problem they were trying to solve! Some countries have laws on how prescription drugs can be advertised to the public. In the UK it is just simply not allowed and I think this should be considered in the US to reduce unnecessary prescription drug use.

    • Thanks for sharing this pointed museum exhibit, Askash. I think that we are the only developed country that allows drug ads on TV– though I understand that the UK has recently been under pressure to change its stance on this.
      And of course, these ads wouldn’t be effective if we didn’t have a worldview that looks for instant fixes.

  76. This was an eye opening article for me to read. I have a prescription for Adderall, which helps children and adults who deal with ADD. The drug has several side effects. These include: chest pain, weight loss, sleep problems, dry mouth, etc. And long time Adderall users face higher chances of developing various psychological disorders and heart issues down the line. I have done plenty of research and talked to several professionals about alternative/more natural ways to deal with my ADD. And, the results were astounding. With the right diet, sleep, exercise schedule, and refining of some study habits., I found drastic improvements in my ADD. Soon, I was able to start to reduce my dosage and have even slowly stopped taking it all together. The reason I bring this up is because this essay brought up a great point. Why do medical companies spend more money on marketing their product than actual research? They should be spending their money on research to try to reduce the side effects and harsh chemicals in medicines, rather than trying to just focus on pushing their product.

    • Congratulations on your personal success in meeting this challenge in your life– and thank you for sharing you success with us here.
      Your story is solid evidence that we are headed in the wrong direction with an emphasis on drug marketing over actual research. We should be working to develop health, not in a free for all fashion as a race to profit.
      This is especially sad in this instance, as ADD drugs are often prescribed to children and young people.

  77. This article took note of something that has occurred often in the last couple years. People today don’t realize all of what they are putting into their bodies. When doctors prescribe drugs for us, we assume that what they are giving us is good for our bodies. Doctors and Presidents are people of authority that we hold in high-regard. If we can’t trust our doctors to keep care of us, or Presidents to have our best interests in mind, who can we trust?

    As to the environment, we should stop using so many chemicals on plants and our crops. We should try and support more sustainable farms, buying more organic foods. Buying locally also helps our local economies grow. As the video under the ‘Links’ section called “A mother and scientist talk toxins and babies” says, “our generation contains more chemicals in our bodies than our grandparents did in their time.” Our generation is all about the quick-fixes, even in menial tasks like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches (one food company created a jar of the peanut butter and jam combined – like it’s so difficult to put a knife into two jars instead of one). We’ve become lazy, looking for the easiest solutions. Our generation needs to start thinking about our lives more. We need to eat healthier and exercise more so we don’t have to take many medications for things like the common cold, to losing weight fast using “weight loss pills”. If we don’t start now, our children will not have many role models to follow on healthy choices both for our bodies, the environment, and the world.

    • Thoughtful point about trust, Ruth. Obviously, we delegate some of our choices to these “authorities” and we need to be able to trust their knowledge and their investment in our best interests–but I think we cannot abdicate our choices and responsibility for them. We need to take responsibility for our choices as well. And in fact, one of the reasons why complementary medicine is being accepted by more and more doctors is that so many of their patients have insisted on it–and in spite of big Pharm– although their ads are geared toward getting patients to pressure their doctors for their drugs.
      “Quick fixes”, as you indicate, raise more problems than fixing something thoroughly in the first place. The important of the precautionary principle is underscored in the European Union’s Environmental Agency’s report, “Late Lessons from Early Warnings”. Case after case that underscores the importance of taking the long view.

    • I completely agree, we are all about quick-fixes! It is so much easier to stop at McDonald’s than to cook that chicken in the freezer. Just like it is easier to take a pill to solve one problem, even if it might risk causing another. We are more focused on the instant gratification than on the outcome and that thinking just creates a blindness. We don’t want to hear the side effects because ‘it won’t happen to me’ and we don’t want to research for ourselves because we have this unadulterated faith in those who’s authority we’ve been taught to believe in and trust. Like how you mention trusting in a doctor who should have our best health in mind. It doesn’t make sense for them to prescribe us a drug that is more harmful than helpful. Another student mentioned not being able to know what or who to believe, and I find that is one of the most challenging ideas we are faced with today.

      • Nice additional thoughts to add to the idea of “quick fixes” and their problems.
        It does not make sense to market or prescribe such drugs in terms of rationality–and with health as our guide. But unfortunately, it makes all too much sense when profit is at stake–and doctors get their primary information on new drugs from those who market them.

  78. The most unfortunate fact here is that the shell game does indeed work stupendously. It will continued to be used as long as it continues to work and the downside of individuals awakening to the ruse is the many years one can become paranoid that this entire planet and its workings are one giant shell game. This happened to me on several occasions actually. I gain hope and momentum and then I sometimes begin to feel hopeless when I am witnessing the massive amounts of destruction and the coverups all around. I lose the ability to trust that the news I am receiving is ever truthful.

    The grassroots effort is worth its weight in gold and more but I always feel that the ‘other side’ is always plotting and creating its attack to counter the bad press and the truth that has been set free. I think many people begin to feel this way and it becomes like a virus, if you lose hope you shut it out and just become resigned to the fact that we are on a path of total destruction, might as well stop trying so hard to fix it. It is tough and a toll on the psyche at times to create the balance. However, I am not ignorant the truths and I cannot turn a blind eye. I begin at home by educating my daughter on the tricksters of this world. I try and do it gently knowing how stressful it can be. I try to take her into the woods sometimes to witness what we still have to cherish and what we must work hard towards maintaining, to be good caretakers of this earth. It is not always easy and we do falter at times.

    • There are times like these when it takes courage to hope–but necessary courage, Renee. We need hope and witness like yours (not to mention, parenting like this). I take heart in the fact that we are not alone in our values: and that connection reaches through so many human cultures and times. And so many grassroots efforts fall under the radar of mass media.
      I believe that democracy depends on an educated populace–and I cannot imagine what this world would be like if all those grassroots efforts did not exist. Here is a an appropriate quote from a brave feminist poet (from her book, Diving into the Wreck):
      “My heart is moved by all I cannot save:
      so much has been destroyed
      I have to cast my lot with those
      who age after age, perversely,
      with no extraordinary power,
      reconstitute the world.”

    • I am so afraid of the destruction that I see in nature myself. Every time I go over Highway 26 or Highway 30 to get into Portland, one more row of trees are lost because of the logging industry. I don’t know how some people can live in certain parts of the world, especially where the area has been devastated by war. When we destrpy nature today, it takes time to heal and one thing that is at the fault of mankind is that we don’t allow it to heal, especially now when it seems like more land is set a side to build on. The do gooders may want to make things better, but they actually make it worse. I like the fact that you take your daughter out to enjoy the sites she can and with future generations, we have to teach them to be caretakers and what it means to be one.

      • It is sad indeed to see these losses piling up, Mary. Can you say just a bit more about the “do-gooders” who make things worse. Are you speaking about the “advances” that are supposed to make our lives better, but wind up with more problems than they solve?
        Then I think we also need to carefully assess the motives of those “do-gooders” when their motive is profit above all. Devra Davis’ work (e.g. the Secret History of the War on Cancer) documents ways in which particular corporations knew of the ill effects of their products and intentionally hid them in order to keep selling them time and time again over the last 100 years. Bill Moyers’ PBS documentary “Trade Secrets” details one tragic case in this respect.

  79. For being written almost 5 years ago, this essay is incredibly relevant today. The first connection to make between this information 5 years ago and today is the climbing rate in mass shootings and the common factor being prescription drugs. When you listen to those advertisements on TV for depression drugs, you hear “may cause an increase in suicidal thoughts or behavior” as one of the side effects. I am baffled as to how a pill that is supposed to make your emotions normal and balanced (dare I say happy?) can actually send a person spiraling even further into depression to the point of suicide. How can our society continue to market these drugs? And why aren’t they pushing for more research and knowledge to figure out whatever chemical is in these drugs that is making the brain act in that manner? It is so scary to see how much control these medications have over our body and yet how little concern there is to prevent them. There is a large push for new legislation around mental health and hopefully the medications associated with it. Along with side effects from prescription drugs, there is also a lot of debate on vaccines and their side effects. This is always a topic around flu season and its interesting to see the rise in families who choose to opt out of flu vaccines. Hopefully if we look back in other five years we will have a more stable solution for mental health prescriptions, vaccines, and any other ‘slight of hand’ situations we are facing.

    • Thanks for your thoughtful responses, Jamie. It is unfortunate that these dynamics continue today. in fact, big Pharma’s market thrusts continue to grow whatever the side effects of their drugs.
      The currency of this essay is testament to the fact that as long as we hold the worldview and values we do, we will continue on the same self-destructive courses– and/or allow corporations to make money from taking us there.

  80. A comment about the war in Iraq as a result of September 11. The ideas presented in this essay is a good reflection about how it came about. Some people struck at the United Nations building in New York and we kick back by going to war without thinking of the consequences. Mom and I have often talked about the war in Iraq, especially when we got involved after September 11. George Bush Jr was trying to finish the task his father didn’t because Bush Sr. pulled the troops out too soon when we went over in the 90’s. When we went back over the second time, it becomes just like Korea: our troops are over there not because of war, but to police the area. How many years will it be until we decide that we can not police the whole, entire world?

    • It is indeed about time we learned from history–and one lesson I hope we learn soon is that we need to assess the “collateral damage” that comes with our “full steam ahead” value, which we too often undertake with blinders as to any of the side effects.

  81. “…nearly 50 million people responded to pharmaceutical ads by requesting the named drug from their physician.”

    The tactics of this type marketing are terrifying. Marketers prey on the hopes of those who suffer on a daily basis. This is where you must wonder if ethics are tossed aside as the profits go up. Some tactics by pharmaceutical companies must be right up there with the cigarette companies. The accountability is the piece that is lacking. It’s not a regulation problem either, but a culture problem. We accept these advertisements as truth and are consequently taught not to question the reductionism of complex treatments. i.e. medicine A makes you better despite all these side effects. That practice gives the masses a false sense of security as a result.

    • Thanks for your response, Sarah. The large number of drugs that continue to be produced and sold without substantial assessment of harms– or denying or minimizing those harms is indeed alarming. As you note, as a society, we are acclimated to such side effects– such that we take one drug to alleviate the side effects of the first and then on down the line.
      The New England Journal of Medicine has recently called for standards that create disclosure when academic authors are funded by big pharm– and too often such articles are even ghostwritten by industry sources.

    • I have noticed this too. Marketers mainly market their products towards those people that are insecure, whether it is about their weight, make-up, health, etc… and they show you how much better your life could become if you take their product using a really happy and excitingly fast paced montage with cheerful music that fits the mood but then quietly and in monotone in the background they tell the side effects so not to draw your attention away from the dream life you are starting to believe you could have.

      • So these ads create distracting psychological blinders so that viewers don’t pay any attention to daunting lists of side effects? What’s wrong with the tv ad of someone floating through a meadow of flowers as the list of side effects, ending with “may cause death” is playing on the screen?

  82. My mother had a stroke as a result of this type of stacking of medicines. Disclosure is always key in these types of scenarios. Consumer power is huge and ignorant consumers make complacent decisions. Ignorance keeps people oppressed. Oppressed people are willing participants in the shell game. It’s a viscous cycle of abuse against humanity which bleeds into other aspects of the world.

    • I am sorry for your mother’s misfortune, Sarah. I hope she has recovered. Disclosure, as you point out, is essential. The problem is that, according to an essay in the New England Journal of Medicine, only 2 per cent of side effects get reported–and we can’t disclose what we don;’t even recognize.

  83. I will probably have a different opinion then most on this essay because I myself am taking a prescription drug and it has changed my life. For about a year now I have been on an anti-depressant which has made me feel a million times better and I act like myself again. However on tv, the same drug I am taking has that side affect “may increase risk of suicidal thoughts.” So yes people go on these drugs and it is a huge risk, but more people then not come out benefitting from these drugs. I knew there was a chance the medication I take would make things worse, but I would rather try it and fail then live the painful life I was living without doing anything to fix it. And yes there are things like eating better and physical exercise and all that which make you feel better. But you will never understand unless you have been in someone shoes like myself that the drugs do make a huge difference. So yes I am freaked out how many people die from these drugs and how they are misused. Of course that is a terrifying fact and I feel for those people. But without these so called drugs that many people are hating on in there comments, I probably would not be in college, not be out of bed, or who knows what else. I know the statistics are shocking and that many people get hurt by the side affects but it is there life. That is the beauty of it, they can control that they take and do not take. Just like if I get a medical condition due to my prescription, its my fault. But hey in my opinion I would rather be sick from anything but depression. I just hope everyone who reads this article can see this comment for a different view on the situation. It never hurts to see the other side of a story.

    • It seems to me that the important issue is that you are making conscious choices that serve your welfare, Sara. Another part of the issue that not all of these drugs work well on all individuals. For another success story– after much trial and error and much assessment from her own professional perspective- -is the lose dose anti-depressant that Temple Grandin finally found that works to alleviate some of the anxiety due to her autism.
      Saying that there are side effects is not to say that we should not produce or research such drugs– but rather, that we should do more objective research and make more informed and moderate choices.
      Thanks for your comment.

  84. I can’t understand why our society accepts this messed up idea of collateral damage. We work to keep ourselves healthy and alive yet somehow we are okay with killing other people in order to do so? I understand the concept, that in order to save the many you must sacrifice the few, it is a clear concept but it’s not right or ethical. Doctors take an oath to protect the sick and heal the wounded yet they prescribe drugs to their patients that may just kill them? Yes perhaps it is a better alternative to doing nothing, but at least make the risks well known rather than playing it as background noise to the happy go lucky life that they could possibly have if they take a drug that could very well kill them.

    • There are indeed questionable ethics to the analysis that we need to sacrifice some to save a few. One issue is who gets to choose those few? Nobel Prize winner Ellie Weisel, who suffered the German concentration camps in WWII, made a list of attributes of totalitarianism. One of those was this idea of the necessity of such “sacrifices”.

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