My grandfather grew up during the Great Depression, and he fought in World War II. As of this moment, he is alive and lucid and self-sufficient and, per Tom Brokaw, a member of the “greatest generation any society has produced.” Mad props to Granddad. Since then, lesser generations have spawned the title of Baby Boomers, as well as Generations X, Y, and Z. But what comes after Z? Look, I’m no Tony Danza or Bruce Sprinsteen, but if I were the Boss, I would suggest this: Generation Medication.
Here’s the part where I’m supposed to fill you up with staggering statistics of how sales and consumption of prescription meds have increased exponentially over the past several decades, but you evidently have access to the internet, so you can do that yourself. But just to humor you, here goes: Back when flannel shirts and Nirvana were en vogue, 9 million prescriptions were written for anti-depressants alone. By 2009, more than 39 million were written. In 2000, pharmaceutical companies spent $2.5 billion on advertisements, and by 2003, it had increased to over $3 billion. That’s half a billion in three years, if I did my math right.
But you don’t need these statistics. You have friends whose kids are doped up due to ADD. Your parents might be struggling to afford all their meds, even generic ones. And heaven knows there are a handful of people at your job who are flat out crazy. You may thank God that they ARE medicated. You’ve overheard their phonecalls. And each of us knows someone who’s tried Viagra or Cialis. The point is, most of us are medicated. Even now I’m on a “severe cough and cold medicine,” and two hours into it, it has failed to relieve any symptoms. Granted, it’s not prescription strength.
I admit I have never been a fan of medication. Never even liked taking Advil or Tylenol, even when high school cramps clean laid me out, propped against the cool tile of a bathroom stall, begging sweet Jesus to take me, please take me. But when insomnia came knocking at my door several years ago, everything changed. Desperate for remedy, I discovered that doctors LOVE doling out meds, as well as mousepad and pen freebies, to make you feel that much more special. And when I called to tell them that the medicine, days later, had still failed to put me to sleep, they never apologized. They simply phoned in another med to try, at another $45 or $60 co-pay, depending on how desirable and recently released the med was.
I spent hours reading the drug information sheets, becoming well-acquainted with their side effects, many of which contradicted each other, like constipation AND diarrhea. And almost all the side effects included death. Really? Isn’t death enough of a deterrent for anyone to opt against a drug? In addition, I began to discover that many of the drugs I took weren’t even intended to cure insomnia; that was just a common side effect. I became so familiar with these drugs that when I discovered a blue drug rep pen on stage at church during last week’s band practice, I couldn’t help but yell out, “Whose Seroquel pen is this? Which one of you bipolar schizophrenic freaks is on Seroquel?”
After a year of dozens of medications, including Lunesta, which offered an aftertaste kin to fresh acidic wretch, and Ambien, which actually gave me six hours of sleep for a few weeks, but with the added bonus of vise grip headaches, I officially gave up on western medicine. And all of the doctors and pharmacists who lied to me. But I am in the minority. Drugs are so prevalent, so commonplace, that I think I can safely assume that the new generation will be entirely medicated. Maybe they will name their kids Zocor and Zestril to make a little side cash. Farfetched, you say? Remember those kids in the U.K. who sold their space face to advertisers to pay off their student loan debt?
I am reminded of all the tobacco ads I used to see in print. In my teens, there was an ad for Newport cigarettes that portrayed two men carrying a pole, with a woman hanging upsidedown from it, one arm dangling down to the ground (read into that what you will). The intention, I suppose–like all Newport ads–was to show friends and lovers (almost always young and vibrant) “alive with pleasure.” I’ve done a lot of things in my life, but it has never even occurred to me to catch a free ride on a pole being schlepped by two buddies, especially since I know the intense pain of bulging discs that could cause. But at some point in my adult life, cigarette ads disappeared from magazines.
There was a lull. And then suddenly, out of nowhere, prescription drug ads appeared, or DTC (Direct-To-Consumer) ads, intended to appeal directly to patients, rather than doctors. All we had to do was fall prey to the ad with the lady spinning on a hilltop of flowers, mention the name to our doctor, and the bottle was in our hands faster than you can say, “Why didn’t I buy stock in Walgreen’s twenty years ago?” It was great for drugstores, great for doctors who declined to educate themselves, choosing instead to memorize and spout off the pharmaceutical company literature, and seemingly great for the consumer, because we got to self-diagnose and self-medicate, and frankly, alcohol hasn’t been doing the trick. I admit it’s easy to get caught up in it: The actors singing “CELEBRATE! CELEBREX!” are enough to make anyone wish he had arthritis.
Pick up any magazine, from Bon Appetit to The Family Handyman, and you will be barraged with DTC ads. And not just one page ads, like the cigarettes used to be. No, thanks to the good people at Pfizer, these are three and four page ads. And who doesn’t want their magazine full of filler trash? Who wouldn’t want to spend an afternoon reading about NSAIDS and Botox? Frankly, I wouldn’t be surprised to open up a new Bible and find Humira ads tucked between Galatians and Ephesians–for when a miracle just isn’t enough.
But as for me and my home, we will steer our kids away from medications that address the symptoms, but rarely the cause. I want my kids to know emotions are natural, depression is natural, pain is natural. Does it suck? Yes. But the answer isn’t always pills. Don’t get me wrong; drugs are not innately evil. Drug companies, perhaps, but not drugs. I know a little girl who is alive today due to the grace of God and the miracle of modern medicine. Her medicines don’t clutter the pages of my Marie Claire. The issue here is so many medicines being overprescribed, unnecessary, and ill-researched. And what about user error? Check out the stats on prescription drug-related suicides and accidental overdoses. Now that’s a bitter pill to swallow.