Many issues that columnists write about stem from personal experience, and this column is no exception. Recently, I succumbed to the mental state that seems to be an old friend of my extended family members: anxiety. It has not bothered me for almost 20 years but revisited me in full force this winter.
I received a recommendation and went to visit my friendly neighborhood psycho pharmacologist who, despite my objections, prescribed one of the new benzodiazepines (a class of drug that includes Valium, Librium, Klonopine). I explained to him that I had worked in the field of addictions for many years and that it was not a class of drugs with which I am comfortable. I then produced a list of vitamins and supplements given to me by my general physician and asked if they were good or if I should be taking more, less or different ones. I got a nice smile and a blank stare. This guy was well educated and young, so, presumably, he was not stuck in old patterns.
Against my better judgment, I took the pills and got temporary relief. But I was uncomfortable and did not react well to them. So, I decided to brave it, put up with the anxiety and hope for the best. During this time, my old friend, Dr. Mel Pohl, released a book titled "A Day Without Pain." Mel is an internist who specializes in addiction and pain management, and this is his latest book. He believes that people become too addicted to legal, prescribed drugs and that there are many other ways to treat pain without whipping out the prescription pad. I read Mel's book and decided that the psycho pharmacologist who had suggested that I take the benzodiapines was buying into the drug companies' sales pitch, hook, line and sinker. (To be sure, there is a time and place for medication, especially with psychotic disorders.)
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I searched for a physician who worked with mind/body alternatives and understood what is now being called "integrative medicine." I quickly found someone who uses many different methods including breathing techniques, vitamins and herbs, biofeedback and other methods and reserves the prescription pad for backup. In two office visits during a period of three weeks, I felt better than I had in months. I had no drugs, just natural techniques and supplements that worked with my body rhythms.
Being a journalist and considering writing an article about this, I decided to do some online research about the overprescribing of drugs. What I found – or actually to be more precise, what I did not find – was shocking.
There is a huge lack of anything devoted to adult prescription drug abuse from our government. There is a ton of information and research on taxpayer-funded websites about teenage abuse of prescription drugs, but the lack of information on adult misuse of legal drugs is astounding. You don't have to be a Las Vegas poker player to speculate why, either. It is lobbying on Capitol Hill by the drug companies. It is also the not-so-subtle brainwashing of America's physicians from medical school to practice that is taking place everyday in schools, hospitals and offices. Everyone agrees kids should not be using drugs to abuse them, but it is fashionable to look the other way with adults.
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Time and time again, the drug company lobbyists have graced our presence in Washington with their full-fledged army and money assault. We saw them like ants on a sugar cube during Medicare Part B. They even walked a few blocks and have made themselves known to staffers at the Department of Health and Human Services to try and dissuade the breastfeeding campaign in favor of infant formula.
The drug companies hire "detail" men and women to visit physician offices to sell their latest products and provide "drug education" materials to the doctors – all of this to make drug manufacturing one of the recession-proof profitable businesses on the planet, garnering up to about 18 percent a year in profit. The medical schools that often rely on the drug companies' payments for research are not about to make alternative and integrative medicine a major part of the curriculum. Sure, you might see a course in it, but it does not take a starring role on any exams or anything else that really matters in a young doctor's education.
Why? It serves all interested parties. The drug companies sell lots of drugs, the psychiatrists have relatively healthy non nuisance neurotic patients that come back to them for another hit of drugs and the patients do not have to do much homework such as breathing or body work. Everyone is satisfied in this arrangement, but no one gets healed. Maybe two of the three parties get rich, but the patient's health fails to improve.