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Modern Drug Pushers, The Pharmaceutical Industry
by Francesca Biller-Safran
TheSyndicatedNews columnist

Award-winning Investigative Journalist and Columnist with experience reporting breaking news, longer features and op-eds about race, politics, business, socioeconomics, arts and culture, ethics and parenting issues for newspapers, magazines, radio and websites. Awards include The Edward R. Murrow Award, two Society of Professional First Place Journalism Mark of Excellence Awards and two Golden Mike Awards for Excellence in Hard News and Best Series Reporting.

Modern Drug Pushers-- The Pharmaceutical Industry

I can’t remember when it became the norm that pharmaceutical companies became prime time drug pushers, but here we are, a lot of us doped up and for no good reason except to help drug companies become more profitable than Coca Cola.

It’s working too. Gone are the days watching advertisements that simply urged us to buy the latest detergent or face cream because a celebrity told us to. Now we’re convinced we’re either impotent, depressed or need sleeping pills if we can’t dreamily drift off to sleep every night.

As human beings, it is natural we sometimes feel fatigued, unable to sleep, depressed and maybe even unable to hold an erection, and I’m a woman. No letters please.

But in moderate to irregular doses, these are normal and expected traits of the human condition. These emotions drive us to write great pieces of music, melancholy and thought-provoking novels, ponder with exuberance over political issues and wrestle with new inventions.

Just imagine Abraham Lincoln, Sir Isaac Newton, Beethoven, Thomas Edison and Mark Twain and how much they must have suffered at times when tackling new and challenging feats of genius and artistry. By the way, they all suffered from depression.

Writer Victor Hugo wrote, “Emergencies have always been necessary to progress. It was darkness which produced the lamp. It was fog that produced the compass. It was hunger that drove us to exploration. And it took a depression to teach us the real value of a job.”

It is through subtle and even deep suffering and frustration that leads us to new ways of thinking and being, eventually often solving what made us feel low and doomed in the first place, without masking any tangible emotions before their inception.

The pharmaceutical industry is now outspending companies like Budweiser, Nike and Campbell Soup when it comes to television and print ads. The Internet has also become a ghastly cohort with an estimated 800,000 web sites that sell prescription drugs with eager shipment to minors and households with no questions asked.

The gruesome statistics includes preschoolers as now the fastest growing market for anti-depressants with at least 4% considered clinically depressed. And over the past decade and a half, the number of teen and young adult (ages 12-25) abusers of painkillers has grown from 400,000 in the mid eighties to more than 2 million in 2000.

Sadly, 17% of people ages 60 or older are most likely to become unwilling prescription drug addicts. And with millions of baby boomers hitting their 50’s, one can only imagine the future spending on drugs such as Lipitor, Vioxx and Viagra.

We all suffer from painful problems at one time or another, be they physical or emotional, with the latter making us wonderfully unique from any other species on the planet.

But when we are pimped and prescribed medications that are often unnecessary and dangerous, no amount of medication in the world will be able to soothe this modern tragedy we are now allowing to infest our culture.

Sometimes when watching ads during my favorite Law and Order episode or imbedded within a Time magazine article, I wonder if I suffer from the growing list of medical problems that I had never even heard of.

Surely I must need Prozac along with 30 million other Americans because I get depressed when bad things happen and when I am overwhelmed. I must also need sleeping pills like Ambien or Lunesta as well as the infamous Suburban Mommy vitamins Zanax and Valium as I have been told by some I have too much energy.

Perhaps I also suffer from adult ADHD or ADD as I have trouble focusing on more than three tasks at a time.

And even though I have kept out of the sun for most of my life, Botox certainly wouldn’t be a bad idea for getting rid of any sort of facial expressions I might want to show the world. God forbid I should have an emotion or want to look upset.

But I am upset and so should we all. In the year 2000, pharmaceutical companies spent about $1.7 billion in TV advertising, 50% more than was spent in 1999.

According to data compiled by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, an estimated 2.2 million Americans 12 and older start using prescription pain relievers each year for non-medical uses, with 15.1 million Americans abusing prescription drugs, exceeding the combined number who abuse cocaine, hallucinogens, inhalants and heroin, of those, 2.3 million are teenagers. And from 1992 to 2002, prescriptions for controlled drugs increased more than 150 percent.

Only as recently as ten years ago, prescription drug ads were outlawed on television, but when the FDA greatly relaxed its rules for drug advertisements, the American culture as we knew it began to change drastically.

Mother’s little helper has taken on a whole different meaning. Prozac is one of the leading medications now given to moms and even moms to be, often to treat anxiety, feelings of hopelessness and even premenstrual symptoms. And I was naïve to think these were just part of the of the job description that comes with motherhood.

Our own mothers felt blue at times, and most dealt with these feelings just fine. It’s called life. This is not to preach any sort of Tom Cruise gospel whatsoever as some women have true chemical imbalances and need psychotropic medications to get them through the baby blues and true bouts of clinical depression.

But for the most part, human beings are able to defy a lot of horrible circumstances that include feelings of anxiousness, guilt, shame and even depression through being courageous, stoic and fearless with no pretty little yellow or pink pills whatsoever.

I am imagining my grandmother during the real depression of the 1930s and World War II when she had two sons who fought overseas, a husband who was gone working, three children left home to take care of, and ran a small grocery store and farm all by herself. She was not on any medications except a natural dose of integrity, brevity and strength.

The hardest lesson will be facing ourselves as hypocrites of the worst kind if we continue to preach to our children not to take drugs while many of our medicine cabinets overflow with quick fixes for every real or imagined malady.

Perhaps the best way to show modern drug pushers we’re not interested is to give ourselves our own prescription of reasonable judgment, intelligent consumerism and a strong dose of self-promotion unwilling to apologize for being ourselves.

Otherwise we will continue to allow a gross misdiagnosis of both old and new generations beyond any perceived reliable remedy, pharmaceutically speaking or not.

Published: Sep 15,2008 17:56
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