THE BLOG

Pharmaceutical Drug Pushers Lead to National Overdose

06/27/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

I only hope that some woman is lucky enough to be with a man who becomes afflicted with one side effect Viagra claims, a condition known as priapism, an erection that lasts more than four hours requiring immediate medical attention.

It's difficult to remember when the slightly abnormal and "normal" physical and mental characteristics began hysterically calling for immediate medications in order to stop, start, maintain or prevent anything from happening at all, with some side effects worse than the diagnoses itself.

It is now the norm that pharmaceutical companies and some unethical doctors have became our legalized drug dealers, and here we are, from infant to infirmed, lusting to be doped up and numbed up, pushing drug company profits to pop more than your grandmother's version of Coke in a bottle ever dreamt could effervesce.

It's working too. Gone are the days of harmless advertisements that flaunted the latest detergent or face cream so that we may avoid looking dirty or decrepit. Now we're convinced we are either impotent, sleep-deprived, manic or depressed-- even needing medication so that we won't pee as much or so that we can pee more.

Ironically enough, a woman well into her nineties said that trying to stop peeing was just about the only fun she has left, leaving her to tell her doctor a big "No" when attempting to prescribe her yet another medication.

There is even an ad that irresponsibly suggests that "anyone" may be bipolar with symptoms such as fatigue, irritability, sleeplessness, excitability, moodiness and lethargy. Just bring in your ad from your Ladies Home Journal into your doctor's office and you could get lucky with a load of meds.

Rodney Dangerfield once said, "My psychiatrist told me I was crazy and I said that I want a second opinion. He said okay, you're ugly too."

Imagine a world where we diagnose ourselves with mental illnesses and disease, prescribed psychotropic medications by General Practioners after viewing ads in Newsweek and on Larry King--drugs that change the characteristics of our brains and behaviors forever. No, this is not from a book by George Orwell, this is now.

It's a good thing drug ads didn't exist during the early days of Woody Allen, Rodney Dangerfield, Jack Benny and The Marx Brothers, or we would have missed out on the many wonderful perils and profundity of the human condition.

Woody Allen aptly said, "Life is full of misery, loneliness, and suffering - and it's all over much too soon."

As human beings, it is only natural that we may feel down, low, foreboding, sleepless, weary and even unable to hold an erection, and I'm a woman. No letters please.

But in moderate and even somewhat regular doses, these are normal and expected traits of the human condition. These emotions drive us to write great music, melancholy and thought-provoking novels, significant legislature, ponder with exuberance over social inequalities and wrestle with new inventions and solutions.

It is when we are at our lowest points when we often discover what can be done right in the world, where we find the impossible answer and question, where we see the value in the value-less, and when we see light in the darkest of night, because we stay awake, and struggle through.

Just imagine how Lincoln, Beethoven, Tolstoy, Hemingway, Monet, F. Scotts Fitzgerald and Keats must have suffered when struggling through the creative process. By the way, they all suffered from depression.

Writer Victor Hugo wrote, "Emergencies have always been necessary to progress. It was darkness which produced the lamp. It was fog that produced the compass. It was hunger that drove us to exploration. And it took a depression to teach us the real value of a job."

It is through suffering and frustration that leads to new ways of thinking and being, eventually solving what made us feel low and doomed in the first place, without masking tangible emotions before their inception.

The pharmaceutical industry is now outspending companies like Budweiser, Nike and Campbell Soup for television and print ads. The Internet has also become a ghastly cohort with more than 800,000 web sites that sell prescription drugs to minors and households with no questions asked.

Gruesome statistics include preschoolers as now the fastest growing market for anti-depressants with at least 4% diagnosed with clinical depression. And over the past decade and a half, the number of teen and young adult (ages 12-25) abusers of painkillers has grown from 400,000 in the mid eighties to more than 2 million in 2000.

Sadly, 17% of those ages 60 or older are most likely to become unwilling prescription drug addicts. And with millions of baby boomers hitting their 50's, one can only imagine the future spending on drugs such as Lipitor, Vioxx and Viagra, and the new medications hitting pharmacy shelves each day.

We all suffer from painful problems at one time or another, be they physical or emotional, with the latter making us wonderfully unique from any other species on the planet. But when we are pimped medications that are unnecessary, dangerous, no amount of therapy or antidote in the world will be able to soothe this modern tragedy we have allowed to infest our culture.

Sometimes when coming across ads during a Law and Order episode or reading an article in The New York Times, I wonder if I suffer from the growing list of medical problems I had never heard of.

Surely I must need Prozac along with millions of Americans because I get depressed whenever bad things happen and overwhelmed. I must also need sleeping pills like Ambien or Lunesta as well as the Suburban Mommy vitamins Zanax and Valium as I have been told I am hyper and too keyed-up.

Perhaps I also suffer from adult ADHD or ADD as I have trouble focusing on more than three tasks at a time.

And even though I have kept out of the sun, Botox isn't a bad idea for getting rid of any sort of facial expressions I might want to show. God forbid I should show an emotion and look angry.

But I am angry and so should we all. In the year 2000, pharmaceutical companies spent about $1.7 billion in TV advertising, 50% more than was spent in 1999.

According to data compiled by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, an estimated 2.2 million Americans 12 and older start using prescription pain relievers each year for non-medical uses, with 15.1 million Americans abusing prescription drugs, exceeding the combined number who abuse cocaine, hallucinogens, inhalants and heroin, of those, 2.3 million are teenagers. And from 1992 to 2002, prescriptions for controlled drugs increased more than 150 percent.

Only as recently as ten years ago, prescription drug ads were outlawed on television, but when the FDA greatly relaxed its rules for drug advertisements, the American culture as we knew it began to change drastically.

Mother's little helper has taken on a whole different meaning. Prozac is one of the leading medications now given to moms and even moms to be, often to treat anxiety, feelings of hopelessness and even premenstrual symptoms. And I was naïve to think these were just part of the job description that comes with motherhood.

Our own mothers felt blue at times, and most dealt with these feelings just fine. It's called life. This is not to preach any sort of Tom Cruise-esque gospel whatsoever as some women have true chemical imbalances and need medications to get them through the baby blues and bouts of clinical depression.

For the most part, human beings are able to defy a lot of horrible circumstances that include feelings of anxiousness, guilt, shame and even depression through being courageous, stoic and fearless; and able to come out of darkness with no pretty little yellow or pink pills whatsoever.

I imagine my grandmother during the "real" depression of the 1930s and World War II when she had two sons who were fighter pilots, a husband who was gone working, three children home to take care of, and single-handedly ran a small grocery store and farm by herself. She was not on any medications except natural and expected doses of integrity, brevity and strength.

The hardest lesson will be that of facing ourselves as hypocrites of the worst kind if we continue to preach to our children to say no to drugs while our medicine cabinets overflow with quick fixes for every real or imagined malady-- and as studies show, home is often where our children get their first fix, leading us all to become unfixable, and for how long, we cannot begin to fathom.

The only combative strategy to give modern drug pushers a strong, clear message is to prescribe to ourselves our own dose of character, reasonable judgment, intelligent consumerism and a strong shot of self-promotion unwilling to apologize for being ourselves, with all of the natural human traits that might imply, with self control, discipline and courage.

Otherwise we will allow a gross misdiagnosis for generations to continue with an overdose of chemical dependency and fall of character beyond any perceived corrective remedy.

Billie Holiday, that beautiful Jazz singer who died of a drug overdose said, "Dope never helped anybody sing better or play music better or do anything better. All dope can do for you is kill you, and kill you the long, slow, hard way."