osteoIf you’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it a thousand times, “Ask your doctor if this drug is right for you.” Drug companies know that we’ll do more than just ask, we’ll demand that our doctors prescribe whatever they’re promoting. That’s good for the drug makers, and most of us think it’s probably good for us as well. After all, we hope we know what’s best for ourselves. The advertising suggests that the drug in question is safe and will help my symptoms, so asking my doctor for it speeds up my chance at getting relief.

But wait! What if the drug really isn’t completely safe (none are, by the way)? What if the drug could cause problems that aren’t easy to fix? What if the drug I use to relieve my heartburn could also do damage to my bones, raising the chance of serious fractures?

A large drug study in Britain found that people over 50 who use proton pump inhibitors such as Nexium, Prevacid, or Prilosec for a year or more have
an increased risk of a broken hip. This is true regardless if the drug is prescribed or available over the counter.

These drugs are very popular and millions of people take them every day. They are available only by prescription so your doctor has to prescribe them, even if he or she does so under the “demand” of a patient who wants relief. Note: These are slowly being introduced to the non-prescription market.

NexiumPrevacid, or Prilosec are members of a class of drugs known as proton pump inhibitors (PPIs). The study found a similar but smaller risk of hip fractures for another class of acid-fighting drugs called H2 blockers. Those drugs include Tagamet and Pepcid.

The study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, looked at medical records of more than 145,000 patients in England. The average age of the patients was 77. The exact mechanism isn’t known, but there may be a relation between the use of the drug and interference with absorption or use of calcium, an important mineral for strong, healthy bones.

AstraZeneca PLC makes Nexium and Prilosec. Their spokesperson said the study doesn’t prove their drugs cause hip fractures. He said, “It merely suggests a potential association.” He cautioned that doctors need to monitor their patients for proper dosage and watch how long they take the drugs. This drug company uses clever advertising (the “purple pill” ads) to convince patients to demand drugs from their doctor and then they wash their hands of responsibility when a problem arises.

The spokesperson for TAP Pharmaceutical Products Inc., which markets Prevacid, denies the relationship between their drug and fractures. She said their drug has a proven safety record and that this study (of just 145,000 people) doesn’t prove or disprove a connection to hip fractures.

Our motto at The Compounder is “too many people take too many drugs”, and this story supports our position. Everyone needs to take a serious look at every drug they take – from the prescribed ones to the ones they can grab off the drugstore the shelf. The dangers are enormous.

Is the drug maker responsible? Perhaps not, legally, but what about the moral issue? Does it seem right to market a product to millions of people knowing that there might be a real risk that it will cause serious damage? I don’t think so, but that’s the way the current system operates. The actual medical outcomes seem to be far less important than making the sale. Profits reign over responsible manufacturing.

What can you do about this kind of action? Clearly, the only person responsible for your health is you. The drug makers don’t accept responsibility. Your doctor is bombarded by patients demanding the latest advertised miracle treatment and at some point the doctor just gives in because of the pressure and the drug maker’s assurance that the drug is safe. But that isn’t true. Using any drug bears risk.

Expect the worst reaction and avoid drugs whenever you can. Think about the real risks and whether you are willing to accept them. For example, a drug that is 97% safe will still do harm to three out of every 100 people who take it. What if you’re one of the three?

One radio commentator made the following observation:

The airlines claim they have a 99.97% accuracy rating when it comes to misplaced baggage. That looks pretty good until you realize that this calculates to over 200 bags per day. It’s a small percentage, but the real numbers get large quickly (200 a day is 73,000 bags a year).

Look for other ways to reduce symptoms. Work with your doctor to discover what is causing your problem and come up with a plan to remove the cause. Maybe it’s your diet or maybe it means doing more exercise. For example, many studies demonstrate how moderate amounts of weight bearing exercise can relieve much of the discomfort from arthritis. It is less expensive to do a few exercises and it is a heck of a lot safer than any drug. It isn’t the quick and easy way, like popping the latest pill, but it works.

Most importantly, don’t pay attention to any ads for drugs. It wasn’t too many years ago that advertising of drugs was illegal. I think it should be that way again. Until those in power recognize the harm that drug advertising can do we have to personally take responsibility to remove drug advertising from our lives. Switch channels, turn the page. Whatever! Just don’t pay attention to any drug advertising, even when it’s disguised as a story.

Pharmacists operate within a focus we refer to as THE TRIAD. It is made up of you, your doctor, and your pharmacist. It does not include the drug makers. It also doesn’t include the insurance companies, but that’s a story for another day. When we have problems, we should talk to our doctors and together decide how to approach treatment.

If you have gastric reflux, for example, consider taking small amounts of additional acid to relieve the uncomfortable feelings. Add one teaspoonful of lemon juice to a small glass of room-temperature water. Drink it slowly over a 15-minute period. Also consider using probiotics every day (my favorite is Florajen 3) and digestive enzymes with each meal.

Always remember that diseases are not drug deficiencies.