Blood Pressure Meds Grossly Overprescribed
Tens of millions of people taking blood pressure medication prescribed by their doctors may be consuming the drugs for no reason, according to a new study. The report, which was conducted independently from any drug company money or influence, found the vast majority of people who take meds for hypertension see no benefit from them, and do not show reduced levels of heart attack or stroke.
According to the Center for Disease Control, some 1 in 3 adults in America, or 68 million people, have high blood pressure. However, for most of them the condition is considered mild. Historically, even those mild cases are prescribed medication; but the study says the drugs do no good for mild hypertension and could cause harm to patients through side effects.
There are dozens of different medications prescribed for high blood pressure, spread across a number of categories. Each has its own side effects, ranging from constipation, excessive hair growth, erection problems, rashes and fever to heart palpitations and other adverse reactions. A tall price to pay, if the drugs aren’t actually helping people live longer.
Follow the Money
There are a number of pharmaceutical products, including those designed to regulate high blood pressure, that bring immense benefits and extend the lifespan of the people who take them. Unfortunately, big drugs are big business, and wherever money is involved, motivations can come into question when medications are prescribed to people who might not need them.
“I think doctors are induced by pharmaceutical companies to use their products,” says medical malpractice attorney Andrew J. Barovick. “Whether they’ll acknowledge it or not, there’s often a quid pro quo.”
The non-profit news group ProPublica has created a database so consumers can find out if their doctor has been taking money from big pharma.
Especially for medications that consumers might take every day for the rest of their life, it’s clearly in the interest of the manufacturer to get as many people on the drugs as possible, even if there’s not actually any benefit to the patient. “It’s probably not a completely evil-plot kind of thing, but it’s good for the pharmaceutical companies because it gets these folks started early on these medications,” Barovick says.
Cost and Benefit
There are countless examples of medications that might bring clear benefits to certain patients, but which end up prescribed to innumerable patients who may not need them, and in fact may end up suffering unnecessary harm from their side effects:
- Tranquilizers like Seroquel used on elderly people living in nursing homes
- Ritalin and Adderall-like meds handed out to kids like candy for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and related diagnoses
- Antibiotics given uselessly for viral infections, that end up creating resistant strains of bacteria
- Anti-depressants over-prescribed for anyone with depression-like symptoms or other emotional problems
- Highly addictive narcotic pain killers like Vicodin and Oxycontin are also over-prescribed in the eyes of many medical professionals
All pharmaceutical drugs have side effects, and the potential consequences must be weighed against the benefits of taking the medication, especially if it is to be consumed over a long period of time. The problem is, there is little incentive for doctors not to prescribe, prescribe, prescribe when in doubt because in most cases there are few consequences for the doctor, even if the patient doesn’t benefit or is harmed.
“If a doctor improperly prescribes medication [and] the patient is injured because of known side effect or for any other reason related to the drug, the doctor can be found liable for malpractice,” Barovick says.
Unfortunately, in cases where side effects are mild and not debilitating or life threatening, it often isn’t worth the cost to bring a medical malpractice lawsuit. Litigation against doctors and their insurers can take years and cost upward of $100,00, which could surpass the award a plaintiff might win for a relatively mild injury. “It’s underreported because you don’t see many lawsuits,” the attorney says. “We have to think about whether it makes economic sense to bring the suit.”