Drugs Are Not the Answer – Choose Proactive Health Care

Richard A. Kimball, Jr.
Richard A. Kimball, Jr.

Modern Healthcare recently published an article by the Associated Press discussing the new heights reached by FDA approvals last year. An impressive forty-one first-of-a-kind drugs have been approved, the highest total since 1996 when the agency sanctioned fifty-three new drugs for public use. Strides in medical innovation are constantly being made but problems in the healthcare system still remain. In the article, two issues are touched upon briefly: cost and treatment of prevalent conditions.

First, we look at cost as a deterrent to affecting change among people living with certain, less common diseases. Fifteen of the forty-one new drugs were for treating “orphan” diseases, “rare conditions and disorders that affect fewer than 200,000 people in the U.S.” The number is significant and is said to reflect a shift in the drug industry’s new focus. It is now turning its eye towards rare conditions that used to be considered too insignificant to devote costly research and development dollars to address. However, the problem lies with accessibility. Can people in these smaller patient populations afford to use the new drugs?

America’s Health Insurance Plans, the national trade association representing the health insurance industry, according to the AP, “spent much of the last year speaking out against the costs for innovative drugs, for use in both orphan conditions and more common diseases. AHIP and other groups took particular issue with the price of Sovaldi, a new hepatitis treatment which costs $94,500 for a 12-week supply.” That’s $1,125 a pill. The treatment may be available but its cost may prove prohibitive.

The second issue is the treatment of prevalent chronic conditions. The article mentions high cholesterol, heart disease and diabetes as some of the prevalent diseases and conditions that the industry considers as ‘solved’ since they already have ‘effective’ therapies available for the treatment of such ailments. The terms ‘solved’ and ‘effective’ are problematic, however,  because they fail to address the underlying concerns that need to be considered when talking about therapies – usually medication – that are available and most commonly prescribed. FDA approval doesn’t preclude unwanted side effects. These are its explanation of approved medicines’ potential risks:  “All medicines have benefits and risks. The risks of medicines are the chances that something unwanted or unexpected could happen to you when you use them. Risks could be less serious things, such as an upset stomach, or more serious things, such as liver damage. FDA approves a drug for marketing after determining that the drug’s benefits outweigh its risks.”

A recent article by Ed Silverman for the Wall Street Journal took note of the faulty system in place when it comes to reporting side effects caused by prescriptions drugs. Information about injuries accrued are incomplete and the reason, according to an analysis by the Institute for Safe Medicine Practices, a nonprofit organization devoted entirely to medication error prevention and safe medication use, seems to be the shoddy reports filed by drug makers.

The FDA’s Adverse Event Reporting System was put in place in order to gather information about side effects that prescription medicines may cause. “Consumers and physicians may voluntarily report problems to the agency or a drug maker, while drug makers must investigate and then report any side effect that may be attributable to one of their products,” wrote Silverman. “Drug makers, however, file the vast majority of reports. During the 12-month period through the first quarter of 2014, the pharmaceutical industry submitted nearly 97% of reports in the FDA system, according to ISMP. Consequently, the non-profit maintains that the integrity of the reporting system rests largely with drug makers, but that drug makers too often file incomplete reports.”

For a report to be reasonably complete, the ISMP notes that it should be dated and include patients’ age and gender. However, it was observed that in 36 percent of the reports filed by industry, the patient’s age was not included and 44 percent of those reports were not dated. “There were also questionable death reports. More than 28% of reported patient deaths did not have useful information about the cause of death or the possible role of a medicine,” reported Silverman.

We have seen an increasing number of reports pointing to the dysfunctional healthcare system we have in place. Clearly, change is necessary, and an outspoken advocate of preventive medicine and telemedicine needs to be put in place.  A move towards a more proactive healthcare system geared towards preventive measures such as education, monitoring, and behavioral changes can potentially help preserve quality of life, not to mention save millions of dollars by avoiding the high costs resulting from poorly managed chronic conditions.

7 Responses

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    Proactive healthcare is exactly what the world needs! Every single cure has a drug attached to it and that is just not right.

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    Well, as they say, prevention is better than cure. But when we get sick or get afflicted with disease, proactive health care, not drugs, may help us get better. That can be done through the right diagnosis of our illness and proper treatment.

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    Sarah D,

    I wish more people would understand that taking a pill is not the answer to high cholesterol or blood pressure. With the right approach and education about foods, you can reduce them booth without medication.

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    Drugs aren’t the only solutions for our ailments. While drugs really help, there are other approaches that we can actually use. In fact, most of the reported ailments are caused by poor lifestyle, so a change in lifestyle in an order.

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    Kimberly D,

    Agreed. These preventive measures will surely help preserve the quality of life and save millions of dollars spent with drugs. I really wish we had a more proactive health care system instead of this faulty system.

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    I completely agree with this. I hate when most people think they can just take a magic pill and all is well. There even seems to be some doctors that feel that way. Great article. I actually came across one that gives some good information in relation to this recently here: http://www.hedgeweek.com/2015/03/06/219589/hexl-new-disruptive-player-us-healthcare-system

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    Sometimes pills work, but there are always alternatives. I definitely agree with you, Jeanette. Great article Richard Kimball! Thanks for sharing.

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