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Left Coast / Right Coast: Are we over-medicated?

Mike Gold living the dream in the Pacific Northwest. Photo credit: Nancy Gold.
Mike Gold living the dream in the Pacific Northwest. Photo credit: Nancy Gold.

By Mike Gold, A retired entrepreneur living the dream in the Pacific Northwest

Yesterday, I awoke feeling a bit queasy. Frankly, this is something that rarely happens to me. I’ve always thought I have a “cast iron stomach.” Few things I eat disagree with me. (There is always the story about the cannibal – who said: “I disagreed with something I ate.”)

At any rate, we had no PeptoBismol in the house. So off I went to Bartells to buy some. Now I have been in our local Bartels on many occasions. Almost every time it is to pick up a prescription medication. So I walk to the pharmacy at the back of the store, pick up and pay for the medication, then leave.

Well this time, it was to buy an ant-acid to settle my stomach. Right in front of me were thirty or so aisles just chock full of every type of over-the-counter medicine. Just in the aisle where the Pepto was located, there were no less than about three dozen competing products.

As someone who went to business school, I got to thinking about why there were so many. First of all, it was impossible to tell exactly which ant-acid I should buy. The main ingredient in Pepto is bismuth subsalicylate. Unless you’ve studied chemistry at some point, you have absolutely no idea what this ingredient does. It says on the label, it settles an upset stomach and also curtails diarrhea! However, just in the Pepto product line alone there were swalloable caplets, cherry chewable tablets to go, instacool peppermint and cherry chewable tablets (frankly, I have a hard time differentiating between the two types of chewable tablets, let alone which I should buy).

Just a few competitive products include: Alka Mints, Calcium Antacid, Cal-Gest, Tiralac, Mylanta, Alka Seltzer, Tums and Rolaids Extra Strength. So what I originally thought was going to be a “quick in, quick out” had me wandering back, again to the pharmacy department, where I asked a pharmacist what he recommended.

After listening to a recital about what several of the above listed products were good for (and by this time, having my mind turn into guacamole), I purchased the original Pepto product. As I headed to the register to pay, I started to look at some of the other products in some of the other aisles.

My first observation is that at least 80% of the products on the shelves were, in fact, food. Candies, chocolates, cookies, on and on. It occurred to me that Bartells was actually a mini-supermarket. Much more food than medications.

Getting back to my musing above about why we have so many choices in over-the-counter medications, it was quite clear. We seem to be a nation of hypochondriacs. On any given day, many of us buy some medication or other to address our daily aches and pains. What is truly remarkable to me, is that there seems to be a different product for any small variation in what ails us. And this does not address the prescription medications.

Now we all have the daily stresses of our lives. Unfortunately, it seems as if there is a drug of choice to “help us through the day.” Depressed? There are dozens of anti-depression drugs. Anxious? Again, dozens of solutions. Want to lose a few pounds? In addition to all the drugs available on the shelves, there are at least a hundred programs (Weight Watchers is perhaps one of the best known programs) you can enroll in.

My last observation about all these drugs (both over-the-counter and prescription) is they all have side-effects. In fact, pharmacists and doctors can access a national data base which lists all the side-effects and also which combination of drugs are dangerous. It is simply impossible to know about all these interactions without this data base. My family physician looks all this up on his smart phone.

On a related note, we also have an epidemic of illegal harmful drugs. It seems that a great many younger people experiment with these drugs.

Synthetic Cannabinoids is an artificially made synthetic version of marijuana. Far more powerful than the normal plant, and highly addictive and dangerous. Then we have all the opioids. Unfortunately, they are also highly addictive and dangerous. Codeine, oxycodone, fentalyn, hydrocodone and heroin. Many people get started on these drugs as a result of hospitalization. What happens is the patient gets addicted to the drug, and then develops a habit sourcing the drug of choice through illegal channels. In 2016, there were over 64,000 deaths from these drug over-doses. In fact, opioid drug overdoses killed more Americans last year than the Vietnam War.

I can’t really address why we over-medicate to this extent. One theory I’ve read is that as marijuana became so readily available (legal now in 14 states), it became “less desirable,” in other words, less “unusual.” So young people looked for other non-traditional ways to get high.

I also recall listening to a Russian woman describing her impression of life in the U.S.. She said: “Only Americans assume that they are supposed to be happy. In fact, in most other countries people are not expected to be happy.” So I guess one can impute from this that because many of us are not “always happy” we seek artificial ways to become more happy.

As for me, I try and make the most of each day. That produces an artificial “high” which makes life much more enjoyable.

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