Doctors in the United States tend to be too quick to prescribe drugs. Almost half of all people in the United States have been prescribed and used at least one prescription drug in the past month. The doctors prescribing these drugs usually do not give much thought to the side effect of what they are prescribing or any non-drug alternatives. Many patients are exposed to these side effects, which can be fatal, while they receive little or no lasting benefit from the drugs.
The average person in the United States between 19 and 64 takes more than 11 prescription drugs. Children between the ages of 0 and 18 take almost 4 prescriptions while seniors aged 65 and over can average more than 31 prescriptions. Over-prescription is a product of a medical system that does not offer much in the way of disease prevention or non-drug alternatives. Doctors tend to be quick to prescribe drugs because they have a limited time to deal with each patient or both the doctor and the patients have seen many ads for the drugs that will stop the effects of their illness.
However there is often not any good evidence that some of these drugs help people in the long run. One example of this is prescription opioids. In 2007 there were nearly 11,500 deaths related to prescription opioids. Additionally, the side effects of opioids can range from addiction to constipation to sleepiness.
In an attempt to counter the over-prescription of drugs, doctors have been urged to think beyond the drugs and to prescribe new drugs with more caution. New drugs have often only been tested on a few thousand patients when they first go on the market and those patients were often healthier and younger than the ones doctors usually see in their office. Since this is the case there are a lot of questions about the safety of the new drugs, especially if the patient is already taking several drugs and it is unknown how they will react if mixed. Additionally, information on the drugs that is unbiased is difficult to find.
There are several ways doctors can avoid over prescribing drugs. Doctors can begin by thinking beyond drugs and trying non-drug therapy, treating the underlying causes, and prevention. Doctors should also be very aware of potential adverse effects such as drug reactions and withdrawal symptoms. Patients also should not automatically be given a drug if they request it. Along with this doctors should not restart a drug treatment that was previously unsuccessful, discontinue medications when they are no longer needed, and if patients have reservations about using drugs doctors should respect them. When considering whether to prescribe a drug doctors should consider the long-term broad impacts of the drug on the patient’s health.
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