Just as the industrial revolution did a lot of damage and is still doing, drugs and irrational modern medicine will do the same if left unchecked

I get my weekly dose of happiness from the British Medical Journal these days. The last week of February 2013 gave me lots of joy as an article in the journal is all about what I have been saying for well over 45 years now. The first article I published “How to avoid modern medicine and survive” — almost cost me my job in the medical school. I survived by the skin of my teeth. The BMJ article says just what I said then — too much medicine.

Call me a therapeutic nihilist, if you will — I couldn’t care less. Just as the industrial revolution did a lot of damage and is still doing, drugs and irrational modern medicine will do the same if left unchecked. For most of us, it is safer and profitable to go with the flow but if you have the good of the common man at heart, it will pain to know the truth about modern medicine — a golem, indeed!

The first five years of the Iraq war cost the U.S. a total of 4,200 soldiers dead. In the first three months of 2008, 4,800 patients died of prescription medicines. Every year, 7,00,000 people in the U.S. need emergency out-patient hospital care following adverse reaction to a prescription drug. Of these, 16 per cent are admitted to hospital for surveillance. (JAMA 2006; 296: 1858-1866) That is according to a new analysis by the Institute for Safe Medication Practices, a watchdog group that has compiled reports from the FDA’s own statistics.

More than a quarter of a million Adverse Drug Reactions a year, costing the NHS £ 466 million (BMJ 2004; 329: 15-19.), come from common drugs like aspirin, diuretics, warfarin, painkillers and many such which could have easily been avoided. The indirect deaths due to antibiotics, various blockers and statins are not recorded. From these the researchers extrapolated the data for the whole of the U.K. to be 2,50,000 deaths a year due to prescription drugs alone.

Weapons of mass destruction!

One could imagine the deathload for a vast country like India of 1.2 billion population, which could be mind-boggling. I dare say the greatest weapons of mass destruction are prescription drugs!

A Dutch study published in the European Heart Journal a few years ago gave the statistics of all deaths between 1995 and 2003 in a population of half a million people from 150 general practices with perfect record keeping systems. Those who had sudden cardiac deaths were compared to matched controls. The analysis showed that people using a range of drugs known to affect the heart were nearly three times more likely to die suddenly. All those drugs were known to prolong the QT interval in the ECG.

One example was Cisapride, commonly given for heartburn. There are many others. In short, there is nothing called the fully safe drug! Antibiotics, antipsychotic drugs and those used to treat nausea and vomiting may all be involved because they have the ability to interfere with the electrical activity that controls heartbeat.

Barbara Starfield of Johns Hopkins alerted the U.S. about this sordid boon in 2000 in her article (JAMA 2000; 284: 483). She showed from the IOM data that the medical establishment was one of the leading causes of death in that country. She quoted the 14 industrialised countries’ study which showed that with minimum medical effort Japan stood on top and the U.S. with a top-heavy medical system came last but one with Germany at the bottom!

Gary Null and his colleagues, using the same data five years later, showed that the medical profession topped the list of causes of death followed by cancer and heart attack in that order of preference! Doctors going on strike in different countries at different times in the last 25 years consistently showed death and disability rates falling down sharply only to level again when they come back! (BMJ 2000; 320: 1561.1)

All this and more show that all is not well and needs immediate change for the better. Awake, arise, and sleep not until we set our house in order for the good of the common man.

(The writer is former professor of Cardiology, Middlesex Medical School, London, and former Vice-Chancellor, Manipal University. Email: hegdebm@gmail.com)

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