You've had a road traffic accident. Your foot is on the wrong way round.
The flesh on your leg has been peeled like a banana. You may have internal
injuries. This isn't the time to be insisting on alternative therapies
like homeopathy and aromatherapy.
Modern medicines, surgery and pain management clearly have a place and
trauma care must be an obvious one. Everything the medics take out of
the wrapper will have been sold for profit.
However, whilst orthopaedic and plastic surgeons are best at saving
smashed limbs, much less debilitating conditions can usually be reliably
dealt with by the body itself.
The body is incredibly resilient. So, why do we reach for pills so
readily? And why the latest media sensation rather than remedies tried
and tested over generations? Why not St
John’s Wort rather than Prozac?
The recent history of prescriptions for depression, detailed at length
by the authors Medawar and Hardon in their book Medicines
out of Control? certainly gives us pause for thought.
We should do some research before ingesting drugs. Here's why:
1) The results we desire may require behavioural change
Getting the benefits we're seeking may simply require us to start doing
something good for our health or conversely stop doing something
that's bad for our health. For example, if we eat fewer calories and dance
more our body mass will drop without drugs. And if we quit smoking our
body will repair faster because fast repair requires a good circulation
of blood. No additional drugs required - in fact, just one less.
2) Your prognosis may be wrong
If your complaint is misdiagnosed your medication might simply complicate
matters. Studies suggest GPs are unable to give a firm diagnosis in 20
- 60% of cases (p196). But all drugs
have side effects. In the 1930s bromides were included in 4 out of 10
GP prescriptions in Britain. Come the 1950s, 'bromism' accounted for an
estimated 10% of all admissions to UK psychiatric institutions (p22).
3) A drug's side effects may be worse than the problem it treats
The last 150 years of prescriptions for fear and worry is a catalogue
of treatments with withdrawal symptoms so unpleasant the patients became
hooked. These include opium, morphine, cocaine, bromides, heroin, barbiturates
and tranquillisers. My grandmother took Mogadon
or similar until the day she died. Prescribed for trouble sleeping, it
later became apparent that stopping it abruptly could be life threatening.
4) The drug trials may have missed something serious
Pressures to get a return on investment mean drugs are frequently on sale
before the longterm consequences of their use are fully understood. Thalidomide
was purposely sold to women as a safer sleeping aid as it was found to
be 'safe' in overdose. Worldwide, some 10,000
deformed babies were born to users before it was withdrawn in 1961.
Heroin was developed in 1898. It was originally promoted as a "non-addicting
cough suppressant" for infants (p17-18).
More recently trials have shown that anti-depressants can actually increase
suicidal tendencies in young people. Trials of Seroxat suggested young
users were more liable to self-harm than those taking a placebo (p201).
5) A placebo may be just as good if not better
A sugar pill can be just as effective. In tests about 1 in 3 people respond
as well to a placebo as to an active drug (p177).
By one expert estimate 80% or more of depressed patients will in time
recover without any treatment (Byck 1975)
6) We give drugs far too much credit
Before the 1850s men were lucky to live beyond 40. Since then human life
expectancy has been on an upward trend in the UK. But prescription drugs
didn't start the trend. General improvements in water, sanitation, education,
accommodation, diet and working conditions made the real difference. Typhoid
collapsed as a major killer between 1860 and 1880 following the installation
of sewage treatment in London.
Cheap tea may also have helped by encouraging people to drink boiled
7) Many of the most effective drugs are old ones
We’ve scoured the planet for useful plants to resynthesize and repackage
- so much so that many of the most effective drugs are long established
and now out of patent protection.
8) Dependence is where the biggest profits are made
Endless fantasies have been peddled to get young people over the hurdle
of those first few foul tasting cigarettes to the state of nicotine addiction.
Dr Batty's Asthma Cigarettes even claimed to effectively treat asthma.
There is profit in cigarettes, profit in caffeine and profit in alcohol.
The profits to be made from illegal
drugs like opium and thus heroin are stupendous. Patients also become
dependent on certain prescription drugs.
9) Spend on drug research is declining relative to marketing
GlaxoSmithKline invested just $14 million in R&D for every $1 billion
in sales growth between 1997 and 2001
(p91). Does that give you confidence they’re comprehensively
testing and reporting post-launch reactions to drugs?
So what conclusions should we draw from all this?
Prescription only drug manufacturers are far from being alone in pushing
for profit. Supposed health food stores push body building supplements
to the front of their shop window for exactly the same reason.
As with any other transaction today, the profit motive means we won't
necessarily NEED the drug we're sold and what we're sold may very well
be celebrated by the producers for the wrong reasons - more for its ability
to produce repeat sales than its ability to deliver an effective remedy.
So, in the one hand we end up with the best-selling double cheeseburger
- this provides double the recommended daily intake of fat. In the other
hand we have the World’s No1 best-selling prescribed drug, Lipitor
- this promises to take care of the surplus cholesterol produced by
the double cheeseburger.
But sadly the prescribed drug has side effects including muscle pain
and tiredness, which means some users will be less inclined to exercise
and perhaps more prone to comfort eating. It seems that if we just keep
taking what we are offered we are doomed to keep going round in circles.
Health and drugs profits aren't natural bedfellows. This is true for
one very simple reason - healthy people don't take drugs.
The book ‘Medicines out of control?’, from which many of
the factual references in the above article are drawn, warns of the risk
of dependence on drugs prescribed to treat depression. It is too tempting
for manufacturers to explain away serious withdrawal symptoms when people
stop taking these drugs as relapse into depression or symptoms of a different
The reason why the UK’s GPs haven’t been able to prescribe
herbal remedies like St John’s Wort surely has more to do with drug
companies seeking to maximise profits than it does to do with the relative
efficacy of the treatment.
The risk of becoming physically dependent on painkillers is well known.
NHS staff take considerable care not to get patients into bad drug taking
habits in the aftermath of severe trauma by, for example, limiting how
long morphine is offered.
Looking at behaviour as the possible root of a complaint has to make
sense. Talking cures make sense. Faith, whether it be in the curative
power of homeopathy, one’s own mental powers or the power of love,
have to make sense. An holistic approach treating mind and body makes
sense. Well documented remedies and approaches that have been used successfully
for centuries are unlikely to suddenly present unexpected problems.
The problem with many prescription drugs is that coming off them is as
HELLISH as the circumstances which moved the patient to seek help in the
first place. After usingbenzodiazepines like Mogadon
at ever higher doses (because of your increasing tolerance), you risk
getting these side
When you reduce the dose following prolonged use:
Anxiety, possible terror and panic attacks
Agitation and restlessness
Muscular spasms, cramps or fasciculations
Electric shock sensations
Aches and pains
Taste and smell disturbances
Flu like symptoms
Impaired memory and concentration
Increased sensitivity to touch
Increased sensitivity to sound
Sounds louder than usual
Increased urinary frequency
Numbness and tingling
Hot and cold flushes
Rebound REM sleep
Fatigue and weakness
Restless legs syndrome
Nausea and vomiting
Elevation in blood pressure
Depression (can be severe), possible suicidal ideation
Loss of appetite and weight loss
Derealisation (Feelings of unreality)
Obsessive compulsive disorder
Gastronintestinal problems (Irritable bowel syndrome) 
When you stop taking it suddenly you may also get:
Convulsions, which may result in death
Catatonia, which may result in death
Urges to shout, throw, break things or to harm someone
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
Organic brain syndrome
Neuroleptic malignant syndrome like event (rare)