Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Pharmacy Visit

I had an interesting experience the other day and I just wanted to share some of it. In fact, during my experience, I began writing this blog entry in my head. All this happened in the span of 40 minutes, in a place I haven’t been to in nearly 8 years, a pharmacy.

I was doing a favor for my Mom, she had a prescription filled for a nasal spray, so I went to pick it up for her. It is important for you to know that going into this pharmacy visit I was in a tremendous mood. I had a good breakfast, great workout and the sun was shining.

I thought I had just entered a funeral home. Seriously, everyone in the place was moping around, a frown on their faces, looking hopeless. And that was just the people behind the counter. In a place where people go to get well, you would think the “healers” would be a tad more upbeat. The head pharmacist was particularly sultry, but more on that later.

The first person I noticed was a man in his mid 50’s, and he looked to be a former athlete of some sort with a large stature. He was completely messed up on pills (I could tell by his mannerisms) and was rambling about pro football with the pharmacist who was barely listening. He said he couldn’t believe the Green Bay Packers beat the Arizona Cardinals in the playoffs (Cardinals won, actually). He was the type of guy whom you avoid eye contact with because the last thing you want is to start a conversation with him. Anyway, he got his prescription filled for Percocet (I was right) and proceeded to hang around the store for the next 20 minutes, browsing the shelves.

The next woman I observed looked like one of those strung out models on day 5 of a crazy bender. She kept handing the clerk expired or invalid insurance cards, and with each rejection she became more saddened. I honestly believe she hoped the clerk would eventually feel sorry for her and give here the prescription for free. Finally, she paid the $22 and left. At this point in my visit I had a pit in my stomach, the same one you get when you’re at a funeral.

The last person I will mention was an obese woman, who had to wait quite awhile to get your prescription filled. She was very sick, coughing profusely, tissues in hand and her body language and interaction with the pharmacist indicated she had been through this song and dance many times. While she waited she perused through candy bar section, evidently trying to find the most enticing choice they had to offer. When her prescription was ready, she went with a Baby Ruth and Diet Coke.

These were just three people I observed in 40 minutes at the local pharmacy. Plenty of others came and went, some old, some young but the underlying theme for each and everyone was the same: downtrodden, beat, negative, and hopeless. It almost seemed as if visiting the pharmacy was some sort of punishment handed down from the doctor.

I believe that pharmaceutical drugs have an important role in healing and wellness. They can save many lives. They can relieve unimaginable pain. But, they are grossly overused in this country.

The number of people with at least one prescription is at 75% (1). Total prescriptions in this country exceed 4 billion, and yearly pharma sales are $270 billion(1). These are some pretty overwhelming numbers, but keep in mind that the Big Pharma is huge corporation, and they must meet certain quotas every year. When health care becomes major business like it is today a number of problems surface. First, the patient and their safety take a backseat to bottom lines and increased revenue. Profits become more important than getting people well. Second, when an industry booms, corners are cut and mistakes are made. Drugs are hastily put through the FDA ringer, sometimes understudied and unproven. Some may recall the Vioxx debacle where this anti-inflammatory drug started causing people to have heart attacks.

The reality is, doctors are trained to recognize complex and even rare diseases in medical school. After that, they learn what medications match up with particular symptoms and particular diseases. In other words, they are really good at “Matching the pill to ill”. Here’s the problem with this system: a pill may relieve symptoms, but the underlying imbalance in the body is not addressed, not even close.

Certain drugs can actually impair the immune, cause devastating side effects, and may mask a deeper problem within the body. Drugs cannot and will NEVER compensate for living an unhealthy lifestyle.

The answer, at least in my opinion, is for there to be a balance between natural, holistic medicine and the use of prescription of drugs. A solid diet, with the addition of particular superfoods and herbs can keep people very healthy and disease free. Add in there some form of exercise, breathing techniques, and stress management and wellness can be achieved. Only after these preventive measures have been taken should pharma drugs even enter the picture.

After dealing with insurance issues, a mistake on the dosage, and getting “into it” with the head pharmacist I left the pharmacy in a crappy mood. From what I witnessed that day, I wasn’t the only one. Trying to get healthy should not involve a DMV-like experience; rather it should be a highly personal and educational experience where the end result is feeling great.