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What boomers need to know about prescription drugs: What you take and what you spend

What boomers need to know about prescription drugs: The problem

It’s not the first time a scathing book on prescription drugs has sizzled on American bookshelves.

But a book just released by Melody Petersen offers new, chilling information about the increased dependence of Americans on prescription drugs. It’s called “Our Daily Meds: How the Pharmaceutical Companies Transformed Themselves Into Slick Marketing Machines and Hooked the Nation on Prescription Drugs.”

Over the last 25 years, drug companies have become aggressive marketers, selling antidepressants, pain pills, and heart medications like soft drinks and detergent, according to Petersen.

Prescription drug advertising is everywhere – on television, scoreboards, and racecar hoods. Drug companies offer sweepstakes and sponsor rock concerts, movie premieres, and baseball’s major leagues.

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The marketing works. Americans spent $250 billion in 2005 on prescription drugs, she reports in “Our Daily Meds.” Nearly 65 percent of Americans take prescription drugs.

Drug companies have turned what were once normal life events -- depression caused by divorce, anxiety about work, and menopause -- into ailments, according to Peterson. People want pills that are quick fixes for these problems.

In 1994, the average American purchased eight prescriptions from his or her pharmacy. In 2006, the number increased to more than 12. Older Americans take an average of 30 prescriptions a year.

The problem: more than 100,000 people in the U.S. die each year from prescription drugs, she reports.

Americans are taking more medications than they need, according to Petersen. And the nation may now pay as much to care for patients harmed by their prescriptions as it originally spent on those medications.

Physicians are the targets of a large majority of the industry’s marketing dollars. In the U.S., there is now one drug salesperson for every six physicians.

The raw chemicals and manufacturing is about 10 percent of the price of most brand name prescription drugs, she reports. From 1995 to 2002, drug companies were the nation’s most profitable industry.

Since the drug industry has so much money, it controls medical science, she reports. Developing lifestyle drugs is the emphasis rather than discovering cures for diseases like malaria.

America’s for-profit medical system -- filled with incentives to make money rather than good care -- has failed, according to Petersen.

“Our Daily Meds” was reviewed in The New York Times on March 17, 2008. Peterson is the author of “The Truth About the Drug Companies” and worked as a reporter for The Times for four years covering the drug industry.

The Public Citizen report, “America's Other Drug Problem: A Briefing Book on the Rx Drug Debate” also offers information on: spending on drugs, marketing, drug company profits, research and development costs, taxpayer subsidies, patent protections, and lobbying spending. The report was updated in 2003.

The drug industry spends almost twice as much on the promotion of drugs as on research, Public Citizen reported in its February 2008 Health Letter under Outrage of the Month.

U.S. pharmaceutical industry marketing expenses in 2004 were $57.5 billion dollars, according to two Canadian researchers Drs. Joel Luxchin and Marc-Andre Gagnon. Industry spending on research and development of drugs was $31.5 billion.

Note: The chart is from the Web site of Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-ND), 2007. You can click on the chart to enlarge it.

Tomorrow’s post on The Survive and Thrive Boomer Guide: “What Boomers Need to Know About Prescription Drugs: What You Take and What You Spend.”

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