My drug problem

Even before I watched the excellent “Dopesick,” I had issues with big pharma. Growing up, I was fortunate to be healthy, not a kid who needed much medicine beyond Pepto Bismol and drops for chronic ear infections. The latter, my mother would place on the stove top above the pilot light to heat them up. I believe she thought she was doing the right thing, but I remember being freaked out by the temperature, wishing for something cool, rather than warm. She was trying, though, and for that I am grateful.

My outrage at the pharmaceutical industry was originally prompted by the AIDS crisis. Working in a medical practice and witnessing the choices (what to pay for – medication or rent or utilities?) forced upon people who were dying, enraged me in a way I had never before experienced. Especially when the drug manufacturers were showering physicians with dinners out, extravagant deli platters from Balducci’s and useless swag. It was despicable.

As an adult, I’m reliant upon Synthroid and feel very fortunate to have quality medical insurance which allows me to pay a minimal copay for my supply. This doesn’t mean, however, that my complaints about how medicine is priced and dispensed have ceased to exist. Let me give you a couple of examples….

A number of years ago, my son and I were flying to Europe days after a pilot had taken it upon himself to steer the plane he was flying into the mountains – a suicide accompanied by innocent passengers. The thought of flying prompted anxiety on my part and I contacted my doctor asking for something to relax me for my flight. They obliged by offering a prescription for 30 Ativan tablets, to which I responded that I only needed two – one to get there, one to get home. Ultimately, I think she wrote the script for what she claimed was the minimum, which was 8 or 10 pills.

Immediately prior to the onset of the pandemic, I had knee surgery. The “cleaning up” of my meniscus was pretty straightforward and my recovery was fairly easy. Of course, I was provided with a prescription for pain management. Again, the number of pills, in my opinion, was excessive. I received 20 painkillers. I believe I took a total of 3.

I take issue with the excessive number of pills prescribed for a number of reasons. First, it seems irresponsible to provide patients with so many pills when their level of pain has not yet been revealed. Why not dispense a more conservative number of pills, like 6 or 8, with perhaps an available additional 6-8 as a refill? Secondly, I don’t want those kind of drugs in my house and getting rid of them can be a challenge. The pharmacy generally offers an opportunity to deposit them into a locked drop box, but I’ve encountered a box that is full and not accepting additions. The pharmacist is not able to take them, so I’ve brought them back home in the hopes of remembering to gather them up on a future visit to CVS. Lastly, I hate the wastefulness of receiving more medication than I require. There are far too many people who don’t have access to prescription drugs for legitimate health issues and knowing that my “extra” pills will be disposed of feels incredibly wasteful.

Speaking of those without health insurance…treatment for my recent and lingering illness included a couple of prescriptions. The inhaler I was given came with a $40 copay. Had I not been insured, the cost would have been $229, a sum that I imagine would have provided a hardship to someone without prescription coverage. I was also given a cough syrup with codeine. That came with firm directions to not take more than 5ml per day. I used it three consecutive nights before deciding it was no longer necessary. The bottle, incidentally, contained 100ml. Why?

Physicians and pharmacists in this country do not seem to be taking the addiction crisis very seriously. It’s more than time for the government and regulators to address this situation because, sadly, the only winners in this situation are the pharmaceutical companies – and that’s a real drug problem.

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