Ten Diseases for which Drugs Are Over-Prescribed

Dr Vernon Coleman MB ChB DSc FRSA

Here’s a list of ten diseases for which drugs are over-prescribed. Many of the drug groups on this list are so over-prescribed that they cause more illness than they treat.

1. Osteoporosis
There are three big myths about osteoporosis. The first is that it is a disease which largely affects women. The second is that it is a consequence of the menopause. The third is that the condition can be prevented and/or cured by swallowing calcium. These are marketing tricks established by the drug industry to sell their products. Osteoporosis is a twenty-first century lifestyle disease best avoided (and conquered) by avoiding tobacco and animal protein (meat), by taking regular, gentle exercise, by avoiding an excessive alcohol intake and by keeping the salt intake down. Too much dieting should also be avoided.

2. Menopause
Millions of women attempt to deal with their menopause by taking hormone replacement therapy. The dangers of this usually unnecessary treatment have been widely documented. Women didn’t suffer from the menopause until drug companies recognised it as a marketing opportunity.

3. Asthma
Asthma is now one of the most over-diagnosed diseases. Drug companies have successfully trained doctors and nurses to diagnose asthma on a single wheeze and to initiate lifelong drug therapy. Many drugs and inhalers prescribed for asthma are potentially dangerous. If the patient had asthma the risks would probably be worthwhile. Since the patient for whom the drugs and inhalers have been prescribed probably does not have asthma at all the risks are definitely not worthwhile.

4. Depression
I have little doubt that many of the patients officially diagnosed as suffering from depression would probably be more accurately described as being ‘unhappy’. To mix together those suffering from endogenous clinical depression (and needing complex and sometimes dangerous therapy) and those suffering from lifestyle disappointment, crises and stress (and needing advice, help and maybe therapy but advice, help and therapy of an entirely different kind) is absurd, illogical and patently cruel. It is done, quite deliberately by the combined efforts of drug companies which are desperate to sell more of their potent pharmacological compounds and doctors whose debt and allegiance to the pharmaceutical companies far exceeds their perceived debts and allegiance to their patients. Drug companies have successfully encouraged general practitioners to diagnose depression in anyone who doesn’t feel entirely happy. Since few of us are entirely happy all the time the official incidence of depression has rocketed in recent years. The drugs prescribed for depression are often exceedingly dangerous and the list of side effects associated with some of the most popularly prescribed products is scary.

5. High blood pressure
Traditionally, high blood pressure has always been over-diagnosed — largely because doctors tend to forget that patients can be nervous when having their blood pressure taken. The condition can, in many patients, be effectively controlled by a mixture of diet, exercise and stress control but doctors tend to find it easier to hand over a prescription. Once a patient has been diagnosed as suffering from high blood pressure, and has been started on medication, the chances are high that the treatment will continue for the rest of the patient’s life. Drug companies make huge amounts of money out of pills which were never needed and which, in the long run, do far more harm than good.

6. Arthritis
Arthritis is undoubtedly one of the commonest diseases of middle age and old age. But although it may be painful and disruptive it is not usually life-threatening and can often be managed very effectively by a combination of lifestyle changes. For example, the impact of rheumatoid arthritis can be dramatically reduced if the patient adopts a vegetarian diet. Despite this, the usual medical approach is to hand out a prescription — often for an expensive drug which is nowhere near as safe as soluble aspirin and nowhere near as effective either.

7. Obesity
It has become politically incorrect to point out that most people who become grossly obese do so because they eat too much food. Instead, the obese are allowed, and even encouraged, to regard themselves as suffering from some sort of illness and are offered treatment of some kind to help them deal with their problem. Inevitably, if no changes are made to eating habits, any weight loss which takes place is quickly reversed. (It is often claimed that stick thin models endanger the health of young girls by encouraging them to stay too thin. Far more damage is done by fat celebrities who revel in their obesity. A quick look around any High Street will reveal that the number of vastly overweight teenage girls is much greater than the number of dangerously underweight teenage girls. The number of diseases associated with obesity is legion.)

8. Tranquillisers
It has been known since 1961 that benzodiazepine drugs are addictive. I first described the problem in 1973 — and predicted that benzodiazepine addiction would be a massive problem within a few years. In the mid-1980s, I estimated that there were three million benzodiazepine addicts in Britain alone. And yet even today there are still doctors who are handing out prescriptions for benzodiazepines and who insist that these drugs are perfectly safe, are not addictive and can be taken — and stopped — without any worry. At least 99% of the patients who are given these drugs do not need them and would be better off without them.

9. Maturity onset diabetes (type II diabetes)
Type II diabetes is as near as it is possible to get to an optional disease. Many people who have it could recover if they chose to change their eating habits. Doctors should know this but, bizarrely, they usually just reach for the prescription pad and write out a prescription for a potentially hazardous drug. Once again the drug companies are the only winners.

10. Antibiotics
The rise in the incidence of antibiotic-resistant organisms is due partly to the widespread use of antibiotics by farmers (who recklessly give it to their animals to help speed muscle growth) and partly due to doctors over-prescribing the drugs. Antibiotics are of no value in the treatment of viral infections and yet thousands of doctors regularly hand out prescriptions for antibiotics to patients suffering from influenza (a viral infection).

Taken from Vernon Coleman’s book Coleman’s Laws which is available on Amazon as an ebook.

Copyright Vernon Coleman

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