In America and a growing number of neighboring countries, drug abuse is on the rise. This is not in reference to illicit drug use, but rather prescription cases. Unfortunately, an ever-increasing number of prescription drugs has lead to dramatic costs in health care and an increase in side effects and injuries. Why have we grown so accustomed to pills as the answer to what ails us?

Penicillin was the archetype for the equation discomfort plus medication equals relief. The introduction of penicillin as a new antibiotic to help treat infections, like pneumonia that might have otherwise been fatal, was a major boost for the possibilities of pharmaceutical medicine. In general, antibiotics continue to have a special place in medicine, treating infections that might otherwise overtake the body. However, the mind-set that all health problems can be fixed with a medication is kindling for a major problem.

Today, the pharmaceutical industry has a pill for everything. The positive side of our current health care model is that it performs wonderfully in emergencies and traumas, where pharmaceuticals play a critical role.  The down side is, often we attempt to treat chronic illnesses with pills, and when they don't work, more pills.  We pay very little, if any, attention to nutritional assessments or treatments. A great deal of research has been done on native cultures and the lack of diseases they share with their industrialized Western counterparts [Source: Price]. Their lack of conditions like tooth decay and colon cancer reflect nutritional imbalances that we should respect and learn from. The U.S. spends more than $2 trillion a year on health care, yet we don't even rank in the top 30 health systems in the world. Of the money spent on health care, only 5 percent goes toward actual disease prevention [Source: Newsweek].

Through its heavy reliance on medications, America incurs its fair share of problems. First, the side effects from some medications are considered by many to be enough reason for a visit to the hospital. Second, the Food and Drug Administration is having difficulty policing the side effects of these medications. This was demonstrated with the drug Vioxx, which was taken off the market after being linked to thousands of deaths, heart attacks and strokes. A third matter of concern for many is the growing number of advertisements for pharmaceutical drugs. Billions of dollars are now spent each year on direct to consumer advertising. This process will continue as pharmaceutical companies find that this type of marketing is successful [Source: Hampl]. Consumers might request a new medication because they saw it on TV, even if a comparable yet cheaper generic version of that medication may be just as effective. The job for the FDA becomes even harder as it needs to keep up with the various appeals to the public.

The cost of pharmaceuticals has garnered much attention as our failing health system becomes more scrutinized. Pharmaceutical drug spending eclipsed $200 billion in 2006, up from $40.3 billion spent in 1990 [Source: KFF]. Avastin, a chemotherapy drug used in cancer treatment, costs $4,400 a month, equaling over a billion dollars of expense to the national medical bill [Source: Progress]. The pharmaceutical industry itself was the most profitable industry in 2000, with substantial profit margin averages above other Fortune 500 companies [Source: Progress]. 

As a nation, we have to realize the strengths and weaknesses of pharmaceutical drugs. We must also further promote prevention strategies and lifestyle changes to dramatically cut our current (and growing) $2.1 trillion health care price tag. These changes can be as simple as getting 10 minutes of sunshine to maintain adequate levels of vitamin D. Only 1/4 of Americans are getting 5 servings of fruits and vegetables a day, a step which can dramatically cut heart disease and cancer risk. Soft drinks have to move way down the list as our preferred calorie source. Exercise can help treat heart disease, depression, osteoporosis, weight loss, diabetes and insomnia. The cure starts with each one of us setting a good example for our family, friends and coworkers. Simple changes could lead to monumental savings in medical costs to this country.