Most people are far more worried about dangerous street drug dealers than they are physicians who quickly dole out pharmaceutical drugs (many being quite dangerous as indicated by their “black box” side effect warnings) – but is this a safe way of thinking? Of course, all drugs have an inherent risk — and this includes prescription drugs — but at least the person buying illegal street drugs usually has an idea that the drugs he is purchasing could be dangerous, and even deadly. Do you think most people think this way when their primary care physician writes them a prescription for their depression after meeting with the patient for a whopping 5 minutes? Hardly, and herein lies the problem.
When people are prescribed medications by their physician the overwhelming way of thinking is that doctors are good, and anything they prescribe must also be good. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case, as increasingly more physicians are actually on the payroll of various pharmaceutical companies and therefore prescribe the drugs they are essentially being paid to prescribe. This wouldn’t be much of a problem if a) the drugs actually “worked,” and b) the drugs weren’t potentially dangerous. The heuristic of “doctor = good” is one that medicine was built upon, but that message is in great jeopardy these days as increasingly more doctors acquiesce to what their patients ask for — in other words, the drugs they see advertised on TV that they are overtly and directly told to ask their doctor about.
Seems like not a night goes by where we aren’t bombarded by drug companies telling us that they have all the answers to all of our problems. My guess is these marketing folks from big pharma have learned about the concept of the mere exposure effect in psychology, where it has been found that if we hear something enough (even if it’s not true), we’ll eventually believe it. Sadly, it is at this precise point where we stop using logic and reasoning and instead become blind and compliant “customers” to the dangerous world of white collar prescription drugs. Big pharma spends tens of millions of dollars each year on advertising, and sadly, their efforts appear to be working as we have more people than ever on prescription medications today.
The Black Box Warnings
The next time you watch one of these ads on TV telling you there’s a pill for (fill in the various problem here), stop watching all the wonderful images of people walking through flower beds or sailing away on a boat and instead pay close attention to all the potential side effects that are required to be mentioned. If you do this, and you really digest what these side effects entail, I guarantee you will have second thoughts about asking your doctor about the drug being marketed. Another way to go at this is to pick up a prescription and read all the black box warnings that detail the various side effects that listed. Sure, your anxiety might be troubling, but is it worth taking a dangerous drug with tons of side effects in order to overcome the anxiety?
Drugs, be it street or prescription, don’t “fix problems,” but at best temper symptoms. What this means is that if you use drugs (street or prescription) and don’t also actively work on your problems (through counseling or by simply having the strength to follow your own life goals), there may not be much of a difference between using marijuana or zoloft. In fact, I would be willing to bet that someone in your life right this very moment is suffering terribly – not from their labeled “disorder,” but instead from the terrible side effects of being “drugged up” on prescription medications. Unfortunately, when people experience problems while taking medications, they almost always erroneously blame their problems on the disorder (i.e. depression), and not the medication.
Unfortunately, problems don’t just go away by taking a pill (or using street drugs, either). Psychotropic drugs are “white collar” drugs, and while they don’t carry the same stigma (yet) as street drugs, you could easily make an argument that they should. One last point — just because seemingly “everybody is doing something” doesn’t make something good, safe, or right. Long ago lobotomies were commonly used to help mentally ill people — in fact, the inventor of the lobotomy even won a Noble Prize for his efforts! Today, lobotomies are no longer used and viewed as dangerous and barbaric. The point? Remain objective, and use rational, logical, critical thinking skills whenever possible — and especially when it comes to drugs.