As an M.D., I’ve been thoroughly trained to believe that drugs—both prescription and over-the-counter—are the best option for patients. After all, they can treat everything from an infection to heart disease to depression. And they often do so quickly, which means that both doctors and their patients are happy. But there’s just one problem. These miracles of modern medicine aren’t necessarily safe.
The truth is that an estimated 106,000 hospitalized patients die each year from adverse drug reactions. And these are drugs that are properly prescribed and properly administered. More than two million people suffer serious drug-related side effects. According to an American Medical Association publication, the news is even more dire. This report notes that prescription drugs kill as many as 198,815 people annually and put another 8.8 million in the hospital. This means that only cancer and heart disease kill more patients than drugs.
Drug Safety Remains Uncertain
How can this happen? I know that many of you assume that the government ensures the safety of all the drugs that hit the market. And they do . . . but only to a point. Before it approves any new prescription medicine, the FDA requires tests for safety and efficacy. But these tests are relatively short, typically lasting no longer than six months. And they often include small numbers of participants. Consequently, a drug’s safety remains uncertain until it has been on the market for many years. This point was driven home by a study several years ago that tracked the warnings and recalls of prescription drugs after they had been made available to consumers. Nearly one out of every five new prescription drugs demonstrated a serious side effect that had not been apparent in the pre-approval testing phase.
Propulsid, Rezulin, Vioxx – Beware!
Some of the drugs in this study initially carried black box warnings—the strongest cautionary labels the FDA requires—and they were eventually withdrawn from the market as more and more adverse effects were reported. The antacid Propulsid, for example, was withdrawn six years after it came on the market because it had harmful effects on the heart when prescribed with other drugs, such as antibiotics. Another withdrawn drug, Rezulin, which was prescribed to diabetics, was finally pulled for safety reasons, but not until it had caused 400 cases of liver failure and 155 deaths. And then there’s Vioxx. This arthritis drug was yanked from the market after reports that it significantly increased the risk of heart attack and stroke. But before it was, the FDA estimates that the drug caused nearly 28,000 deaths among users.
Lipitor, Viagra, Fosamax
Unfortunately, there are hundreds of other prescription and OTC drugs that should carry stronger warnings but don’t. For example, commonly prescribed statin drugs like Lipitor can cause muscle damage and even death in some people. And the best-selling drug Viagra has been linked to heart attack and vision problems. Fosamax, the popular osteoporosis drug, is quickly gaining a reputation for decaying the jaw bone in women using the drug. It’s so serious that Merck, the drug’s maker, has put aside a $48 million war chest in anticipation of lawsuits. And yet, these drugs are still being prescribed to millions of patients.
Please, don’t get me wrong. There are situations where drugs are the best choice. But, in many cases, there are safer options—many of which come from nature. How safe are dietary supplements? The FDA has received a grand total of just 2,621 reports of adverse reactions from supplements over the past 16 years! That’s an average of 163 per year. And, last year, there were only 16 reports of death linked to supplement use. Compare that with the nearly 199,000 deaths from prescription drugs each and every year and you can see how much safer supplements are. Think of it this way, it’s more likely that you will die from being struck by lightning than from taking a dietary supplement.
Unfortunately, the dietary supplement industry doesn’t have the funding that Big Pharma enjoys, so many people are unaware of the safety and efficacy supplements offer. This has been a concern of mine for many years. As a doctor, I would rather have an educated patient than one that just pops whatever pills are prescribed without asking any questions.
Reaction. American Medical News. 15 Jan 1996. Page 11.
Temple RJ, et al. Safety of Newly Approved Drugs: Implications for Prescribing. Journal of the American Medical Association. 2002;287:2273-2275.
Unintentional Poisoning Deaths: United States, 1999—2004. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. CDC. 2007;56:93-96.
Dr. David J. Blyweiss began his medical career as a clinical pharmacist in South Florida prior to earning his medical degree from St. George's University School of Medicine in 1982.
His dual background allowed him to appreciate the relevance of conventional pharmaceutical/surgical based treatments in acute medical conditions, and recognize where these approaches fell short in treating the majority of patients who suffered from the chronic degenerative diseases of "western civilization origin."
Over the last twenty years, with the nutritional medical knowledge base expanding in the fields of nutrigenomics, protemics, and other related "orthomolecular" disciplines directed towards patients' biochemical individuality, Dr. Blyweiss became an early adherent and experienced practitioner of what would become known as "functional medicine." This knowledge allows him to effectively manage and alleviate the symptoms related to the most "difficult-to-treat" conditions by addressing the underlying causes, allowing the body to heal itself.
Dr. Blyweiss was one of the initial researchers doing the early work on chlorhexidine (Phisohex) while earning his first post graduate degree at Temple University School of Pharmacy. During medical school he worked with the WHO (World Health Organization) in vaccinating children in the islands of the Carribbean. He has traveled much of the world, most recently to Belize, Central America, Gabon, Africa, and Zagreb, Croatia working closely with teams of specialists to identify new plant life and natural products for possible human benefit as well as researchers and their stem cell transplantation teams. He has consulted for and created state-of-the-art nutritional supplements for multiple nutritional companies since 1999. He is currently in private practice in South Florida where he resides with his family.