Chas Gant MD PhD
I recently read that about 50% of the pharmaceutical industry’s profits are channeled into marketing and advertising, which explains the bombardment of utterly offensive and misleading media drug ads I am forced to experience when I fail to click the mute button fast enough. But I confess to having cashed in on some of Big Pharma’s, physician-focused marketing efforts, by accepting coffee mugs and other trinkets from drug sales people, and even getting paid to have a free dinner now and then and listen to the latest pharmaceutical pitches. I have even been offered a few six figure research “bribes” in my 35 year career, to “test” the latest drugs on my patients and make sure the outcome data supports the efficacy of the drug. Through the years these research grants were hard to reject when you are struggling to give your kids the best, but I decided my soul would have been forsaken forever if I went down that route, so I have always politely declined such lucrative offers.
I don’t mean to suggest that drugs are not useful. I prescribe them for most of my patients. Drug treatments, like all therapies, should be based on 3 main criteria – safety, efficacy and expense (in that order) – and sometimes drug therapies rise to top of the decision tree. However, drugs are toxins, and since toxicity from plastics, heavy metals, pesticides, preservatives, antibiotic-laced food and many other modern era poisons are common causes of chronic medical and psychiatric problems, one might wonder why the prescribing of potentially toxic pharmaceuticals, which could worsen ones total toxic load, is not done with far more discretion.
In my opinion, the foremost indication for prescribing a drug is to kill infectious organisms (like fungus or parasites) or certain cancers, conditions which are usually far more toxic than the drugs used to treat them. Also drugs are useful for toxin removal, such as chelating away heavy metals like lead with the drug EDTA. Temporarily worsening the “toxic load” with poisonous, prescribed chemicals, in order to safely detoxify my patients from far worse toxic problems is often a fair and necessary trade off.
An extremist position, sometimes echoed by some alternative practitioners, that no place for drug therapies exists at all in healing, is in my opinion as dangerous as out-of-control prescribing practices in conventional healthcare. To withhold drugs when they can be healing and life saving is unconscionable. However I am sympathetic to the naturopath’s concerns about drug therapies, because some conventional doctors may not be prescribing with the discretion I alluded to above.
Peer-reviewed, published articles have suggested that drug reactions, due to drugs which were prescribed according to “accepted standards of care” (no mistakes in treatment), are the third leading cause of death behind heart disease and cancer (see Barbara Starfield, MD, MPH, Is US Health Really the Best in the World? JAMA. 2000; 284: 483-485). In fact, any licensed physician who does not prescribe drugs according to such “accepted standards of care” can open themselves up to criticism by regulators and their patients. I am sympathetic to the regulatory and economic pressures which doctors must contend with, to prescribe out of fear of such repercussions, and their need to pay exorbitant malpractice insurance rates because they are compelled to harm some patients in their careers by conforming to Big Pharma’s “accepted standards of care.”
US Healthcare was ranked 37th in the world, despite the fact that the US spends more per capita on healthcare than any country. The root of the so-called “health care crisis” in the US is defined by the fact that non-pharmacological and non-surgical healing therapies and alternative medicine is generally accepted and welcomed everywhere else in the world. Drug therapies are expensive and potentially dangerous. Modifying symptoms with toxic chemicals without getting to the root causes of chronic medical and psychiatric problems simply “kicks the can down the road” for far worse problems. How do we solve this dilemma? How can a truly integrated model of healthcare evolve in the US which includes both the judicious use of drug therapies and alternative therapies? How can we solve the “health care crisis” by creating a delivery system which is safer, more efficacious and far less expensive?