By Rob Pell
March 11, 2013
Ideas for reducing unnecessary, preventable deaths in this country have been in the news a lot lately. Where shall we begin? Annual gun related homicides total about 11,000 and automobile fatalities are about 35,000 per year.
Would you be surprised to learn that the leading cause of death in the US appears to be the medical system itself. This is the startling conclusion reached in a report published by medical researchers: Gary Null, PhD; Carolyn Dean MD, ND; Martin Feldman, MD; Debora Rasio, MD; and Dorothy Smith, PhD.
Deaths resulting from inadvertent, adverse effects or complications from medical treatment or diagnostic proceedures are known as Iatrogenisis, meaning: Brought forth by a healer (from the Greek iatros, healer).Their report places the number of annnual iatrgenic (brought forth by a healer) deaths in the US at 783,936.
Hippocrates is often regarded as the father of western medicine and 98% of American medical students swear to some form of the Hippocratic Oath before practicing medicine. One of the underlying principals of the Oath is: “first, do no harm.” I’m not sure if that’s sad or ironic.
The largest single contributor to iatrogenic deaths are prescription drugs, being used as directed. According to a report issued by Medical News Today, over 4 billion prescriptions were written for drugs in America in 2011 . That’s an average of over 13 for each man, woman and child. The average number of prescriptions written annually for a senior citizen is 28 per year. That doesn’t include over- the-counter medications or vaccines. If these drugs could successfully treat and cure disease, the United States would have the healthiest inhabitants on the planet.
The possible adverse reaction warnings on TV drug commercials have become a punch line for comedian’s routines, but, life-threatening side-effects are no laughing matter. Common side-effects of individual drugs are well publicized but it’s impossible for physicians or pharmacists to reliably predict what possible side-effects will occur when combining three, four, 13 or 28 different drugs.
I was recently saddened to read the obituary of one of my customers, a strongly-built Military Veteran in his mid-seventies, who appeared to me to be in excellent health five years ago. His son told me that he had reviewed his Dad’s prescriptions with him and was shocked to discover that 9 of the 12 drugs his father was taking had been prescribed to treat side-effects from one of the other drugs. His father was found dead, lying on the floor of his residence. No autopsy was performed.
The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) published a study by Dr. Barbara Starfield, an MD with a Master’s degree in Public Health, revealing the extremely poor performance of the United States health care system in a number of areas.
One of Starfield’s main concerns is the lack of systematic recording and studying of adverse events stemming from prescription drugs. If a patient dies, there is no routine procedure to notify their physician, even if the patient is autopsied. Therefore, there is almost no way for the average doctor to link a patient’s death to a possible adverse reaction to a prescribed medication.
This is especially troubling because another article published in JAMA concluded prescription drugs, being used as directed, cause about 106,000 deaths a year and over two million serious injuries annually in the U.S. This makes prescription drugs the single largest factor in deaths induced by the medical establishment.
Nationally, only about 20% of all deaths are subject to investigation by a coronor or medical examiner. If the cause of death was made certain in all cases by autopsy, I’m quite sure that the number of deaths actually caused by prescription drugs, being used as directed, would dwarf the 106,000 per year the JAMA report acknowleged.
I’ve seen enough to believe that in many cases Big-Pharma is far more concerned with creating repeat, lifetime customers rather than finding cures. Joining the drug companies, the FDA and insurance companies are the kingpins behind this profit-driven business model. Some call doctors well-meaning, unsuspecting pawns of Big-Pharma. Others call them street level pushers for FDA sanctioned drug cartels. Either way, the kingpins couldn’t do it without medical doctors helping them complete the drug delivery system.
Due to concerns about dangerous side-effects from long-term use, many prescription drugs were, at one time, specifically prescribed only for short-term use Now, just a few years later, many of the same drugs are routinely prescribed, indefinitely, for the rest of your life.
Further, the Null-Dean report showed that the number of people exposed to unnecessary hospitalization annually is 8.9 million per year. This is cause for concern because a 2008 study issued by the Office of Inspector General for the Department of Health and Human Services, reported that one in seven Medicare beneficiaries who is hospitalized will be harmed as a result of the medical care they receive in the hospital.
Prescription drugs and hospital visits are very risky business. Unlike with other more well publicized causes of death, simply taking greater personal responsibility for our own health and well-being could save hundreds of thousands of lives every year. Unfortunately, more gun or traffic laws will do nothing to save us from what is actually the Nation’s number one killer, the U.S.medical system.