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An Ounce of Prevention: The harmful effects of drugs

Published:Tuesday | March 15, 2016 | 12:00 AMDr Anthony Vendryes

Our society actively promotes excessive drug use. Powerful brainwashing techniques are imposed on us every day to encourage more drug consumption. In addition to the problems from recreation drugs like alcohol, tobacco, cocaine, and cannabis, a deadlier threat looms from the extraordinary increase in the use of prescription and non-prescription medication.

A 2002 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that over two million hospital patients in the US suffered serious drug reactions annually, resulting in more than 100,000 deaths. But other research estimated that only five per cent of drug reactions are actually reported, and that in reality, over 400,000 people are killed in America every year by these dangerous chemicals. Some experts now consider adverse drug reactions to be the number one cause of death in the US.

The side effects of drugs are also expensive. A 2000 report revealed that the side effects of just drugs used outside of US hospitals cost over US$177 billion for that year.


Lifestyle is our main problem

Medical research clearly shows that most of our common diseases heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, arthritis, and many cancersare the result of unhealthy lifestyles. Simple interventions like optimal nutrition, supplements, exercise, and effective stress management are often less expensive, more effective, safer options.

So why do we take so many drugs? The financial interest of the powerful pharmaceutical industry is a big influence. They have a good thing going. The more of their drugs you take, the more additional drugs you need to deal with their side effects. Modern medicine puts little emphasis on natural therapies and the public has been programmed to want, and even demand, a pill for every ill. People accept the risks because they believe that if the doctor prescribed it, then it must be OK.


Know the drugs you take

Prescription drugs require a prescription because they are potentially dangerous, and doctors and pharmacists do try hard to reduce the hazards of medication. The information on a drug?s effects is in a leaflet included inside the box with the medicine, but few patients can read or understand it without the aid of magnifying glasses and a medical dictionary.

I suggest that patients ask their doctor to explain the risks and side effects of any drug prescribed and then find out why you should take those risks. If you do not get a straight answer, or if the doctor is 'too busy' to discuss this with you, then you should consider seeing another physician. You can also consult a reference book called the Physicians? Desk Reference (PDR) or use the Internet for information on any drug. The PDR lists drugs under type, generic and brand names, and even has pictures of some medicines. Most drugs have more warnings and precautions than uses, more dangers than benefits, so be ready for some unpleasant reading.


Are you already taking medication?

If you are on prescription drugs only, consider consulting a holistic physician who practises integrative medicine to address the underlying causes of your problem. Do not just suddenly stop your medication, especially if you are taking powerful drugs for a serious illness. Discuss with your health-care provider the possibility of reducing the drugs prescribed. It is best that they supervise the reduction of your drug use while monitoring your progress. As all drugs carry a risk, the good doctor wants the patient to take as little medicine as is necessary and is happy to work with motivated patients to avoid medicines when possible. Look out for and immediately report to your doctor any negative effects of the medication you take. If your doctor believes that you cannot reduce the level of your medication at all, you can honour that viewpoint, but a second medical opinion might be in order.

However, you the patient must be willing to participate and make the necessary lifestyle changes. For example, the stressed overweight patient with high blood pressure must commit to an effective stress management and weight-loss programme if he wants to reduce the need for blood pressure medication. Similarly, the patient with a stomach problem must be willing to change his eating and drinking habits. Everything, including good health, has a price.

Although drugs are the common options for treating illness, they can do great harm, and caution is necessary in using them. A healthier lifestyle may well cut your need for medication.

You may email Dr Vendryes at or listen to An Ounce of Prevention on POWER106FM on Fridays at 8:15 p.m. Details of his books and articles are available at