Drugs for Life.

Guest Post by Angelika Dremonas, Future Ad Professional

Similar to Joseph Dumit’s Drugs for Life, the article “Medicate! Society’s Dependence on Prescription Drugs,” poses parallel questions of those of the book.  In a technologically advanced world, why is the rate of prescription drug use constantly increasing? With all of our science and research, why can’t we solve the problems that produce the ailments—and prevent them—rather than addressing them after they occur? Why do so many people turn to chemicals that have widely known and stated risks? Health in America today is defined by this double insecurity that is, never being sure enough about the future, always being at risk, and never knowing enough about what you could and should be doing. This insecurity proceeds to grow despite there being an equal growth in research about risks, screening, and treatments and constant growth in the amount of medicine consumer each year- as if the more we know, the more we fear; and the more we fear, the more preventive actions and medications we need to take.

Screen Shot 2013-03-08 at 7.38.42 PMIn Drugs for Life, Dumit’s research aims to comprehend this double bind of ever-increasing diagnosis and pharmaceutical consumption in the United States. Additionally, he aims to uncover the ramifications of our redefinition of health and illness over the past two decades. Drugs for Life is about the current American, middle-class, commonsense view of health and illness, risk and treatment and how it works. It’s about how this view encourages people to consume more and more drugs for life. The average American is prescribed and purchases somewhere between nine and thirteen prescription-only drugs per year, totaling over 4 billion prescriptions in 2011 and growing. “The growth in pharmaceutical consumption is actually quite astounding. Put simply, Americans are on drugs.” These people are us, the generalized “you” of the jokes and the object of pharmaceutical marketing.

The main objective of pharmaceutical companies and advertisers is to maximize the number of new prescriptions and make sure consumers stay on their medications for as long as possible. With that being said, medical observers have noticed that the vast majority of illnesses today are treated as chronic and that being at risk for illness is often treated as if one has a disease requiring lifelong treatments, or in other terms, drugs for life. According to Marcia Angell in “The Truth About the Drug Companies,” Americans now spend a staggering $200 billion a year on prescription drugs, and that figure is growing at a rate of about 12 percent a year. Prescription drug use is on the rise and this trend shows no sign of slowing down.

In 2002, “The Truth About the Drug Companies” revealed an unnerving discovery that the combined profits for the ten drug companies in the Fortune 500 ($35.9 billion) were more than the profits for all the other 490 businesses put together ($33.7 billion). In “Medicated! Society’s Dependence on Prescription Drugs,” they bring light to the fact that in recent decades, the amount of advertisements for prescription drugs has impressively increased. Today, almost every commercial break includes at least one drug-related ad, often overemphasizing the drug’s effectiveness. There’s a large misconception that today, the use of street drugs is one of the most problematic issues found in our society. Although the popularity of illegal drug use is a major concern, it’s not the only issue society is facing. “In today’s fast-paced, stress-filled world, millions are becoming increasingly dependent on prescription drugs. Often, people are looking for the “quick cure” for all ailments from headaches to heart disease.” Whether it be trouble sleeping, general unhappiness, restless leg syndrome or attention deficit disorder, today there’s a pill for every ill. Our society has evolved throughout the years in that it has almost become innate for us to reach for the nearest prescribed medication in order to solve our issues as quickly as possible and with the least amount of effort. “Tragically, millions upon millions do not realize that there are certain risks in taking prescription drugs; these can include weakened immune systems and sometimes addiction.” The FDA openly admitted that there is no such thing as a totally safe drug. They all have risks, even the over-the-counter drugs that are commonly taken, like aspirin. This imperfection seen in the system causes a vicious cycle. As adverse effects to prescription drugs occur, many of this generation simply try to address the new ailments with additional new drugs that causes other side effects.

A recent trend among millions of youth is prescription drug abuse. A study from Partnership for a Drug-Free America revealed that one in five teens abuse prescription drugs, meaning 20% of teenagers experiment with prescription drugs, consequently evolving into addictions. What many fail to realize is that prescription drugs have equally if not more harmful effects as those of illegal drugs. “Medicated! Society’s Dependence on Prescription Drugs” investigated these overlapping trends seen in Drugs for Life. In doing so, they concluded that the answers lie in the fact that it’s natural for human beings to put things off until they “need” to be addressed. Society at large takes on this habit of procrastination. We address the effects of bad health rather than the cause- living life as if there are no laws or governing principles of health. For example, when painful or uncomfortable symptoms develop, people address the symptoms instead of the element of their lifestyles choices that caused it.

Explaining the continual growth in drugs, diagnoses, costs, and insecurity can take many forms. One key approach involves following the money and tracing connections between the profits of pharmaceutical companies and disease expansion. Although the FDA may have the safest regulatory standards in the world, it also controls the largest market in the world. Thus, with advertising playing such an important role in how we portray ourselves in the world around us, we need to take into consideration advertising in aspects concerning the promotion of pharmaceutical drugs. As we discussed in class, there are serious ethical considerations needed to be made within any profession. We see that advertising has played a crucial role in how society has evolved throughout the years in that it changes our attitudes, beliefs, and values. Thus, one can see that advertising plays a serious role in how our society views “health.” The increased advertising of pharmaceutical drugs has a direct relationship with the increased use of prescription drugs. We need to take a step back and be mindful to what medications we’re consuming.


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