Health Threat to Country Grows


In 1990, the Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) predicted that by 1998 the federal government would have to conscript all health care workers in the US due to all the problems developing in the healthcare industry in America. The time has long since passed when something urgent and substantive must be done to begin protecting our citizens from an industry gone haywire.

Picture of Prescription Pills Fully one-half of the media in America utilizes forms of therapy other than - or in addition to - a more limited use of the current system. They have learned that to submit themselves solely to the current system invites greater sickness and/or even death due to the high and growing odds of such outcomes from a system out of control. It seems, however, that the remaining portion of the media is not interested in these alternatives or, even, chooses to unwittingly advance the cause of the negative culture arising from the current industry.

No one seems to be able to "tame the Goliath." The US Congress has tried to address just a single aspect of this devastating problem: the Institute of Medicine's (IOM) report in 1999 that from 44,000 to 92,000 people are killed each and every year in our hospitals as a result of medical mistakes. It has been found, here in 2003, that nothing has been accomplished to correct his tragic situation.

But, consider the following, additional problems we face:
Doctor Errors Cause 500,000 Preventable Drug Reactions Annually (study): The number of elderly Americans who take prescription medications is staggering. According to a recent national survey, more than 90% of people age 65 or older take at least one prescription medication weekly, and more than 40% take five or more different medications each week. A study published in the March 5, 2003, issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association provides startling answers to the question of what the facts are, suggesting that more than one-quarter of all drug errors experienced by elderly patients are preventable, and that most are caused by doctors' own mistakes.(1)

Drug reactions were the fourth leading cause of death in the United States, with costs of more than $170 billion in 2000.(2)
More bad news for hormone therapy: Taking estrogen plus progestin doubles the risk of dementia (Alzheimer's) in women 65 and older, says a much-anticipated report out on May 28, the latest to shoot down long-held but unproven beliefs about hormone therapy's benefits.(3)

DES (diethylstilbestrol) now linked to cancer: For more than three decades, doctors routinely prescribed DES to millions of US women to prevent miscarriages. They finally stopped in 1971 when it was recognized that DES could harm daughters born to women who took it while pregnant.(4)

US Warns Drug Makers on Illegal Sales Practices: The Bush administration told drug companies on April 27 that many of the techniques they use to sell their drugs run a high risk of violating federal fraud and abuse laws. Marketing practices that drive up federal costs, interfere with clinical decision making and lead to overuse or inappropriate use of drugs should be stopped.; Drug companies objected to many provisions of the compliance guide.(5)

Bayer agrees to Pay US $257 million in Drug Fraud: Bayer pled guilty to a criminal charge after engaging in what federal prosecutors said was a scheme to overcharge for the antiobiotic Cipro.(6)

Tufts University, which carried a negative article (Tufts University Health & Nutrition Letter) using Dr. Barrett and the National Association of Chiropractic Medicine as sources, allied with pharmaceutical houses: Tufts Center for the Study of Drug Development, is a nonprofit group that is supported by the drug industry.(7)

Doctors fail to heed side effects (study): Side effects from prescription medicines plague one in four patients, and when these adverse reactions surface, most doctors fail to act, US researchers said Wednesday. In nearly two-thirds of the cases, the side effect persisted because the doctor failed to heed the warning signs, the researchers said.(8)

Leading Causes of Death Annually in the US**

1) Heart disease - 724,269
2) Cancer - 538,947
3) Stroke - 158,060
4) Drug reactions (side effects) (as of January 22, 2003)
5) Chronic lung obstruction - 114,381
6) Medication side effects - 100,000 (older figure)*
7) Pneumonia and flu - 94,828
8) Accidents - 93,207
9) Diabetes mellitus - 65,574
10) Medical errors in hospitals - 44,000 - 400,000
11) Suicide - 29,264
12) Kidney disease - 26,295
13) Chronic liver disease - 24, 936
14) Blood poisoning - 23,643
15) Alzheimer's disease - 22,824
? Unnecessary surgery - 11,900***

Note: Items 1 through 3, 5, and 7 through 9, and 11 through 15 are figures from the National Center for Health Statistics.** The NCHS listed the 12 leading causes of death without listing items 4,6 and 10. Sources for item 10 are the IOM (Institute of Medicine) (lowest estimated figure: 44,000), and from the Kaiser Foundation (highest estimated figure: 400,000). Drug reactions resulting in death are listed as the fourth leading cause of death (above) as recently as January 22, 2003 by Harvard Medical School (Robert H. Schmerling, M.D.) with costs for these of more than $170 billion in 2000.(9)
*Associated Press
**Parade Magazine
***Leape LL. Unnecessary Srugery. Annual Review of Public Health 1992; 13;363-383
The United States ranks 35th in the countries of the world, according to the World Health Organization, in the quality of care received by its citizens.

The New York Times Magazine, on May 5, 2002, carried an article entitled "What Doctors Don't Know (Almost Everything)." The article likened the practice of medicine to "a slight-of-hand game known by every small-town carny."
Aspirin Epidemic: "Aspirin and related drugs kill almost as many people every year as AIDS and are responsible for a "silent epidemic," researchers from the National Center for Health Statistics reported on June 17, 1999. "If those deaths (16,500) occur annually in the United States, and were given their own category they would constitute the 15th most common cause of death in the United States," said Dr. M. Michael Wolfe of the Boston University School of Medicine.
"None of the 456 most-prescribed cold and cough prescription drugs is recommended because of potential side effects such as: depression, hallucinations, psychoses, sexual dysfunction, dementia, insomnia, constipation, Parkinsonism, etc." (Public Citizen's Group(11)

"Deaths from prescription drug errors increased at a higher rate over a 10-year period than any other cause of death except AIDS." "Overall, the researchers found a 2.57-fold increase in deaths caused by prescription drug errors from 1983-1993."(12)

Anti-fever drugs such as aspirin and acetaminophen (56,000 hosptial emergency room visit last year alone for the taking of over-the-counter medications (including Tylenol) with acetaminophen in them) may prolong symptoms of the flu, Baltimore researchers report.(13)

"Prescription drug abuse deadlier than use of illgal drugs."(14)

All of the above while medical education shows its great inefficiencies in such areas as the musculoskeletal system (comprising 60% of the body's systems): "We recently reported the results of a study in which a basic competency examination in musculoskeletal medicine was administered to a group of recent medical school graduates. This examination was validated by 124 orthopedic program directors, and a passing grade of 73.1% was established. According to that criterion, 82% of the examinees failed to demonstrate basic competency in musculoskeletal medicine."(15)

And when the publications of leading medical journals have been called into serious question as to their eithics: "What does it say about the state of peer review medical journals and academic medicine when The New England Journal of Medicine relaxes its conflict-of-interest rules because it cannot find enough experts with no ties to drug companies. ...The conflict of interest, with its attendant disservice to patients, cannot be explained away, and the cost to the integrity of the medical profession will be incalculable."(16)

And, "Investigators find repeated deception in ads for drugs": "Some companies have repeatedly disseminated misleading ads for prescription drugs, even after being cited for violations, and millions of people see the deceptive commercials before the government tries to halt them, Congressional investigators said on December 4, 2002."(17)

And, "Health care regulator often fails, report says:"The nation's most influential health care regulator (Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (JCAHO) often gives its seal of approval to medical centers, including hospitals, riddled with life-threatening problems, according to a published report. It was found that the JCAHO under reports patient deaths from infections and hospital errors."(18)

Four US health leaders say system needs overhaul: "The nation's health care system is too costly, inefficient, unfair and in need of an overhaul, six former secretaries of the US Department of Health and Human Services agree on November 8, 2002."(19)

Court Papers Suggest Scale of Drug's Use: Documents released on May 29, 2003 in the case of a drug company whistle-blower shed light on how extensively doctors were involved in promoting unapproved uses of a Warner-Lambert drug, Neurontin. Warner-Lambert paid dozens of doctors tens of thousands of dollars each to speak to other physicians about how Neurontin, an epilepsy drug, could be prescribed for more than a dozen other medical uses that had not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration. Some of the doctors were from top medical schools and one a former professor of neurology at the University of Florida. He received more than $300,000 for speeches he gave.(20)

Enough. A great deal more could be said about the death and devastation occurring in the United States brought to us by the health care industry.

We hope the media will begin to attack this tragedy with the same diligence it used to attack the Bridgestone Tire issue where 284 people died. The media kept the events on the front pages and television almost daily for two years. Clearly, a reform of the healthcare industry will not be adequate. It must be taken over - somewhat like we have done in Iraq - and reconstituted from the ground up. Persons outside of the healthcare establishment must comprise a majority of those in charge of the "makeover."


1)References, Kaufman DW, Kelly JP, Rosenberg L, et al. Recent patterns of medication use in the ambulatory adult population ofthe United States: The Slone Survey. (JAMA) 2002; 287:337-344. Gurwitz JH, Field TS, Harrold LS, et al. Incidence and preventability of adverse drug events among older persons in the ambulatory setting. JAMA 2003;289(3): 1107-1116.
2)Harvard Medical School, by Robert H. Schmerling, M.D., January 22, 2003.
3)USA Today (from JAMA) May 28, 2003.
4)USA Today, April 15, 2003.
5)The New York Times, April 28, 2003.
6)The New York Times, April 17, 2003.
7)The New York Times, May 18, 2003.
8)USA Today, April 17, 2003.
9)Harvard Medical School, by Robert H. Schmerling, M.D., January 22, 2003.
10)TheNew York Times Magazine, May 5, 2002.
11)The Tulsa World, "Toughing out common cold is best approach." November 13, 1999.
12)USA Today, February 27, 1998.
13)Journal of Pharmacotherapy, December 2000.
14)AMNews, December 16, 2002.
15)The Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery (Am) 83:604-608 (April 2002).
16)The New York Times, June 19, 2002.
17)The New York Times, December 4, 2002.
18)The Associated Press, Chicago, November 10, 2002.
19)Atlanta Journal-Constitution, November 19, 2002.
20)The New York Times, May 30, 2003.

Jerome F. McAndrews, D.C.

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