Medications are an expensive proposition – in more ways than one.

shutterstock_129916589-mDo you grind your teeth every time you have to fill a prescription?  Maybe you have really good insurance or maybe you don’t have any insurance at all. Maybe you have insurance but the co-pay is taking you to your knees. Got plenty of extra cash? Your attitude will likely depend on how sick you are (or will be) and the state of your bank account.

Frankly, I hadn’t given this much thought because I only take one prescription and even that one aggravates me a lot. But I am seeing more and more about awful price increases for insulin, filler for EpiPens, and many others. So last Sunday, on my way home from Hot Springs, I listened intently to the People’s Pharmacy on NPR. The shocking subject was the spiraling cost of medications in the United States.

  • Generally costs were described as increasing about 10% per year.
  • Cancer treatments were reported to be at or above $100,000 per year.
  • The average American, they reported, takes 4-5 prescription medications.

Geez!  We are talking big money here.

As soon as I got home I went straight to my computer to check the accuracy of their reporting. Unfortunately I found the problem to be understated.

Number of Prescriptions

I first looked at the number of drug prescriptions filled at pharmacies (sorted by age) for the year 2015 as reported by the Kaiser Family FoundationClick on this to see detail by state. This is seriously scary. The older we get the more prescriptions we seem to require.

  • On average, every young person up to age 18 has about 4 prescriptions filled for them in one year. Doesn’t sound too bad, right?
  • Except that the average annual number of prescriptions filled by adults is over 12.
  • And then those of us over the age of 65 fill 27 prescriptions every year. Since I don’t take any prescriptions that means someone, somewhere is taking many more than 27.

Note that this is really incomplete information as it only covers prescriptions filled in pharmacies, not mail order.

Close your eyes now. Imagine that line of seniors moving into and out of the doctors’ offices followed by a sprint (perhaps an exaggeration) to the nearest pharmacy. We (and our doctors) apparently think there is a pill cure for “anything that ails us”. In truth, we are usually just treating the symptoms.

Adverse Consequences of Medications

So we spend a whale of a lot of money with our fingers crossed; praying that a “cure” will come from the medicine and forgetting there could just as easily be more jeopardy attached to the medication itself. says for every five people in the hospital, one will have an adverse reaction to a drug. According to Top Masters in Health Care, a whopping 16% of hospital admissions are related to adverse reactions to medicines and that there are ten times more deaths from adverse reactions to legal medication than illegal drugs.

What is going on here? Certainly abuse of legal medication for non-medicinal purposes is a factor. And anyone who watches drug commercials knows that drugs have many, sometimes ugly side effects  But Dr. Mercola says there is more to it.

“The reason there are so many adverse drug events in the U.S.6 is that so many drugs are used and prescribed – and many patients receive multiple prescriptions at varying strengths, some of which may counteract each other or cause more severe reactions when combined.


Cost and Keeping Your Fingers Crossed.

Fingers also are crossed for cancer where you can spend a lot of money for short term gain. Five year survival odds for some cancers are better than others. For example, 89.2% of those diagnosed with breast cancer will live longer than five years after diagnosis. On the other hand, only 7% of those with pancreatic cancer will live more than five years. Click here to see a more complete list showing the percentage of patients who die within five years after diagnosis for various types of cancer.

During those five years of survival, costs continue in a understandable effort to squeeze out a just little more time with the family. Cancer, according to Drugwatch, costs more annually than even heart disease (which is actually the leading cause of death in America.) This little example will help explain that.

A new drug combo for melanoma treatment created by Bristol-Myers Squibb was forecast to be $256,000 for a year of treatment. It turned out to be more. This was expected to be an extraordinarily successful drug, effective 60% of the time. Note that means it won’t be effective 40% of the time. And, so far, the best outcome has been 11 to 14 months of “progression free” survival.

It doesn’t matter what percentage (if any) of the treatment cost will be covered by your insurance, you will likely be left with an enormous out-of-pocket expense. And any way we cut it, we simply have our fingers crossed that we will be in the 60%.

How Do You Feel About This?

So how do people feel about these extraordinary costs? A Kaiser Health Tracking poll reported by Drug Watch finds that

  • 76% of the public thinks the government’s high priority should be making high cost drugs for chronic conditions affordable. Given the number of Americans with chronic health conditions, that percentage makes sense.
  • 72% of Americans believe drug costs are unreasonable;
  • 74% think big pharmaceutical companies care more about profits than people.

I guess we have to face reality. Any company listed on any stock exchange cares more about profit than people, no matter what their product.  Any of us who own stock are just thrilled when the value of our stock goes up. This is capitalism. We may only be disturbed when the product pricing that creates that value digs into our personal pocketbook.

The Crisis — We Take Too Much Medicine

Some medications are simply unavoidable. Deadly allergic reactions to peanuts are an example. So yes, this is a crisis.

Putting aside those exceptions, however, the crisis is not so much the cost, but the fact that we take so much medicine. Our first priority should probably be doing the things that prevent or correct the chronic conditions requiring drugs in the first place. Our bodies have a system for identifying and fixing problems, usually without benefit of medication. That would be our magical immune system. But our immune systems aren’t working so well these days, principally because of our diets.

Please click here and read my my earlier blog post on that again. But in case you don’t choose to click, here is a quote from the blog.

“When your immune system isn’t working inflammation just continues, chronically. Your security system’s job is to see a condition and attack the source. Attack the bad bacteria, virus, fungus, or ingested toxin. A really scary example  would be cancer. Security (your immune system) is supposed to recognize cells that will become cancer and either fix them or force them to commit suicide before they can even be seen medically. When security fails, cancer cells turn into tumors and a tumor is the symptom of the underlying condition.”

Although genetics are a factor in your health, most chronic health conditions are a manifestation of food or other toxins (many of which are actually in the food) associated with your lifestyle and limited immune system. You don’t notice your immune system when its working — because you aren’t sick.

Am I guaranteeing that a good diet will prevent all illness? Nope. But I will guarantee that a poor diet will make you sick and keep you sick. Would you like to extricate yourself from the perpetual medications cycle, saving yourself a lot of pain and money? If so, start with a diet that avoids the chemical toxins in commercially processed food and eat the food that provides the nutrition your body and immune system needs to keep you healthy.

It’s just a choice.