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Prescription Drugs

Things to Consider

The use and abuse of drugs is prevalent throughout history. Natural product extracts from botanical plants provided the main source of medicines in the early centuries. In the later part of the nineteenth century, biologically active organic molecules were isolated from plants. For example, salicylic acid, the precursor of aspirin was isolated in 1874 from willow bark. Potent painkillers, morphine and codeine, were isolated from the opium poppy. The leaves of purple foxglove provided digitalis for heart disease. The active ingredients that were found in plants are now synthesized on a massive scale to produce pharmaceutical drugs.

Next to oil companies and the war industry, pharmaceutical companies are the most profitable industry in the world: $643 billion worldwide were spent on drugs in 2006. Pharmaceutical companies focus on producing artificial substances that can be patented. Little interest is given to researching natural substances because they cannot be patented. In order to manufacture or patent their own product, an additional molecule is often attached to the synthesized active ingredient (a copy of the active ingredient found in the natural substance). This new substance may look similar to the natural form however it does not entirely act the same.  The synthetic molecule with the foreign side chain affects how it is metabolized in the body and how it acts (please refer to Hormones for more information).

With all the money spent on research in the pharmaceutical industry we often believe that prescription drugs should be exceptionally safe. That however, is not the case. Not only do pharmaceutical drugs tend to have multiple side effects, but they are also unpredictable when mixed with each other. Many ‘adverse events’ can occur from medication being improperly administered. It is estimated that over one million people are injured and 285,000 die from the injuries sustained while hospitalized in the US in one year. A substantial percentage of those are caused by medication mishaps. In a 2004 Canadian study, they found 185,000 incidences of adverse events in hospitals.  These events were more likely to happen in older patients who coincidentally tend to be on more medications.  In the US the total number of drug related deaths now surpasses fatalities from car accidents. Interestingly, in 2011 an article published in the Journal of Medical Ethics revealed a disturbing trend in the amount of retractions from previously published journal articles. Retractions can occur because of errors in data, collection of statistics or fraud. From 2001 to 2006 there was a 500 percent increase in the amount of retractions. Based on recent patterns, a minimum of 360 articles was predicted to be retracted in 2011. The number of retractions brings forth many ethical concerns regarding faulty research. It also begs the question of whether the evidence for the safety of certain pharmaceutical drugs is truly legitimate. Prescription drug errors are actually considered the leading cause of death. A 2003 report revealed that 783,936 deaths are the result of medication in the US alone and over 2 million worldwide every year.

Prescription drug addiction is a growing problem. Since the medications were originally ordered by a doctor, prescription drug abuse is seen differently than street drug abuse. Prescription drugs can also lead to addiction. Prescription medications such as pain relievers, tranquilizers, stimulants and sedatives become addicting in the same way street drugs do. The medication changes the brain’s chemistry, making it less effective at producing chemicals like dopamine or endorphins, the pleasure neurotransmitters. Since the brain has stopped producing these chemicals itself, they must be introduced through another source. At this point, the prescription drug addict has become physically dependent on the medication. A person addicted to prescription drugs may experience anxiety, depression and difficulty sleeping or sleeping too much, loss of interest in relationships with friends or family members, or withdrawal symptoms when they try to stop using the medication on their own. These may be the symptoms they originally began taking the medication for.

Top Ten Abused Prescription Drugs

  • Ambien (zolpidem) ~Insomnia
  • Seroquel (quetiapine) ~Antipsychotic
  • Dilaudid (hydromorphone) ~Pain
  • Xanax (alprazolam) ~Antianxiety
  • Desoyxn (methamphetamine) ~Stimulant
  • Narcotic syrups (codeine and hydrocodone)~Neurological Suppressant
  • Adderall (mixed amphetamine salts) ~Stimulant
  • Laudanum (opium tincture) ~Pain
  • OxyContin (oxycodone) ~Pain
  • Opana (oxymorphone) ~Pain

Pharmaceuticals can have significant toxic effects to the body. Unexpected side effects, or interactions, with other medications can often occur. In many cases, these medications can inhibit the function of the body’s natural detoxification pathways leading to excess amounts remaining in your system for longer periods of time. The impact your medications can have on your health should not be easily dismissed. Your ND, as part of their training, has been educated on drug to drug interactions and drug to herb interactions. All research on drugs is held to the highest standard of investigation which is the double blind studies, however once more than 2 prescription medications have been prescribed the outcome is mostly unknown.

Prescription drug trends have increased exponentially over the past 20 years. In 2011 the total expenditure in Canada is forecasted at $32 billion dollars. Non-prescribed drugs (i.e. over the counter medications, supplements etc.) only accounted for 16% of the total. From 1985 to 2009, prescribed drug expenditure grew from $2.6 billion to $24.8 billion while non-prescribed drugs increased from $1.2 billion to $4.8 billion. Accounting for a small portion of drug trends in Canada.

Canadians use more prescriptions than ever before. According to Statistics Canada in 2005, pharmacists dispensed on average 35 prescriptions per person aged 60 to 79 and 74 prescriptions for patients aged 80 or older.  Currently, there is an overall average of 14 prescriptions per Canadian citizen. This data stresses the need to be concerned about your health and to begin long-term maintenance at an early age. Waiting until your health declines can ultimately lead to astronomical costs to you and your family.

With the substantial growth in prescription drug use, the real and hidden truth behind publication bias should be exposed. The practice of selectively publishing the results of trials that beneficially serve an agenda is a systematic flaw in medicine. The bias ultimately includes positive results and not negative ones, the lack of retractions from fraudulent studies and the influences of funding.  A shocking half of all completed trials on medical treatments currently prescribed have never been published. Positive results are two times more likely to be found in the literature. This publication prejudice is quite serious as the end result is death if choices are continuously being made with inaccurate information and recommendations.

In 1980, a study conducted on a heart arrhythmia drug called lorcainade had quite negative results. Of the 100 participants, 50% received the drug. Among the treatment group 10 died in comparison to the one death from the placebo group. The commercialization of the drug was abandoned although the trial was never published.  Similar arrhythmic drugs were created and marketed over the next 10 years by other competitive pharmaceutical companies. An estimated 100,000 deaths occurred in the U.S. alone before the drugs were found as the cause. This is merely one example of the price of publication bias as the negative results from the lorcainade trial may have provided an early warning if they had been available.

The flu drug, Tamiflu, is currently anticipated as the main treatment for a flu pandemic. Remarkably the science behind Tamiflu is not available. Of the 10 studies conducted, eight have never been released.  In 2012, Cochrane (an organization well known for their scientific reviews) attempted to update their data on influenza management.  The previous assessment of Tamiflu was from 2009. Despite best efforts, the group was unable to get the manufacturer (Roche) to release the missing 8 clinical trials of Tamiflu. In collaboration with the British Medical Journal (BMJ), Cochrane revealed this issue to the public. The BMJ Open Data Campaign site contains links with Cochrane’s communications with Roche, the CDC and the WHO, all of which suggests their awareness and continued support of Tamiflu, regardless of full scientific disclosure.

The publication bias is a definite flaw. All research is not published and negative results from pharmaceutically funded trials will rarely be seen. With the amount of data missing and unavailable there certainly cannot be a claim or guarantee of a drug’s safety and effectiveness. Knowledge is power, be aware of the ill effects and addicting possibilities of prescription medications.

The following video link is a humorous depiction of a pharmaceutical drug. Refer to or Google Progenitorivox.


  7. Ben Goldacre: What doctors don’t know about the drugs they prescribe. Sept 27, 2012. Ted Talks Director.
  8. Mercola. Publication Bias-the Hidden Systematic Flaw in Medicine that Can Threaten Your Life. February 13, 2013.