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An ounce of prevention | Medical drugs can harm

Published:Tuesday | April 18, 2017 | 12:00 AMDr Tony Vendryes

In today's world, drug use is rampant. The dangers of legal recreation drugs like alcohol and tobacco are well known while, at the same time, widespread illegal drug use continues to concern authorities. Indeed, abuse of these 'social drugs' pose a great threat to our physical, social, and economic well-being.

However, research indicates that the consumption of medicinal drugs, legally prescribed by doctors, is an even bigger problem. Though prescription drugs may sometimes save lives and alleviate suffering, they can also do great harm. One report in The Journal of the American Medical Association stated that each year more than two million Americans suffer from toxic reactions to correctly prescribed and properly taken medicines.

Benjamin Franklin once said, "The best doctor gives the least medicines." I would add, "The best patient needs the least medicines." The healthier you can be, the less drugs your doctor needs to prescribe for you. An enlightened health-care provider should certainly want you to be giving as little medicine as possible. One reason to limit medication is that all drug use carries a risk.


Drugs can be dangerous


A big reason why prescription drugs require a prescription is because they can be dangerous and doctors do try to carefully select the type and quantity of the medicine they offer. Despite this more than 150,000 deaths now occur each year in the US from patients taking drugs that their doctor prescribed for them! Some experts now say that prescription drugs have become the leading cause of death in America.

Drug manufacturers are now the major source of information on the side effects of the medicines that they sell and doctors rely on this information. You the patient who is paying for and consuming these drugs should also have access to the information on drug dangers found in the leaflet that should legally accompany your medication. There is also a reference manual called the Physicians' Desk Reference (PDR) that provides detailed information on every drug. It makes interesting reading as some drugs have more dangers than benefits, more warnings and precautions than uses.

Most of our common diseases - heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and many cancers are the result of unhealthy lifestyles. In my experience these problems can often be prevented and even reversed by simple lifestyle interventions like optimal nutrition, nutritional supplements, exercise and effective stress management. Why then are so many drugs being used to manage symptoms? A big reason is that modern western medical training lacks any emphasis on natural approaches to healing. The money, power and control of the big pharmaceutical industry is a second contributing factor. The drug companies have great influence on how doctors think and how medicine is practised.

But the attitude of the patient is another cause. Our modern 'quick fix' approach requires a 'pill for every ill'. The usual expectation from the patient - cure me now Doc, puts the physician on the spot. The doctor has to respond, and since his or her training is mostly about drug use, you usually get a prescription.


Prescription drug abuse


The abuse of prescription drugs is expanding at an alarming rate. Tranquillisers, painkillers, antidepressants and stimulants are the drugs in greatest demand. The practise of going from doctor to doctor requesting prescriptions for these medicines, called doctor shopping, is now quite popular and very dangerous.

Polypharmacy is the technical term used to describe a patient taking many different drugs simultaneously. This is particularly dangerous as, not only are you faced with the side effects of each individual drug but you are also at risk from the interactions of the different drugs. It is not uncommon these days for a patient to be taking 12 or more prescription medicines at the same time. Usually, some of the drugs prescribed are to help deal with the side effects of the others. This is a worrisome and unhealthy trend.

A couple common examples of drugs combinations that could spell trouble are: aspirin and the anti-clotting drugs like Plavix, both blood thinners that together could increase the risk of dangerous bleeding. Or the cholesterol drug simvastatin (Zocor) and the blood pressure medication amlodipine (Norvasc). Statins, along with their cholesterol lowering properties, can cause muscle aches, pain and weakness and Norvasc heightens that risk.


Cut your risk


Ask your health-care provider about possible alternatives to drugs! Some doctors are happy to work with motivated and interested patients who want to avoid medicines when they can. If your doctor is not so inclined, then try to find a doctor who is. Also, get back to the doctor immediately if you experience any negative effects of the medication you are taking.

If you are already on medicines it is not a good idea to suddenly stop taking them on your own. Share with your doctor that you wish, if possible, to reduce or get off the medicine that you are on. Ask for an explanation of the side effects of the drugs prescribed and why you should take those risks. It is best to work with the physician who prescribed the medicine for you in the first place. But if you do not get a straight answer, or if the doctor is 'too busy' to discuss this with you, then it may be time to consider getting a second opinion.

If you are willing to make changes in your diet and lifestyle and take appropriate nutritional supplements, it is quite possible to reduce or sometimes eliminate the need for medication. But it requires some discipline and commitment, a price that many are still not willing to pay.

- You may email Dr, Vendryes at or listen to An Ounce of Prevention on POWER106FM on Fridays at 9 p.m. Visit for details on his books and articles.