I recently read that about 50% of Big Pharma’s profits are channeled into marketing and advertising. If true, that certainly explains the plethora of utterly offensive, and misleading drug ads I am forced to listen to on the radio and TV.
But I confess to having accepted some of Big Pharma’s physician-focused bribery, by accepting coffee mugs and other trinkets from drug sales people, and even getting paid to have a free dinner now and then and listen to the latest pharmaceutical pitches. I have also been offered six figure research bribes, to test the latest drugs on my patients. They were hard to turn down when you are struggling to give your kids the best, but I decided my soul would have been forsaken forever if I went down that route, so I have always politely declined such offers.
I don’t mean to suggest that drugs are not useful. I prescribe them for most of my patients. Drug treatments, like all therapies, should be based on 3 main criteria – safety, efficacy and expense – and sometimes drug therapies rise to the top of the decision tree. However, drugs are toxins, and since toxicity from plastics, heavy metals, pesticides, preservatives, antibiotic-laced food and many other modern era poisons, are a common cause of chronic medical and psychiatric problems, one might wonder why the prescribing of potentially toxic pharmaceuticals, which could worsen ones total toxic load, is done at all.
In my opinion, the foremost indication for prescribing a drug is to kill germs (like candida) or cancers, conditions which are usually far more toxic than the drugs used to treat them. Also drugs are useful to directly remove toxins, such as chelating away heavy metals like lead with the drug EDTA. Temporarily worsening the toxic load with a poisonous, prescribed chemical, in order to ultimately detoxify my patients from far worse toxic problems, and doing it as safely as possible, is often a fair and necessary trade off.
The extremist position, sometimes echoed by some naturopaths, that there is no place for drugs at all in healing, is in my opinion dangerous. To withhold drugs when they can be healing and life saving is unconscionable. However I am sympathetic to the naturopath’s concerns about drug therapies, because conventional doctors are not prescribing with the discretion I alluded to above.
Accepted Standards of Care
In fact, peer-reviewed, published articles have suggested that drug reactions, due to drugs which were prescribed according to “accepted standards of care” (no mistakes in treatment), are the third leading cause of death behind heart disease and cancer (see Barbara Starfield, MD, MPH, Is US Health Really the Best in the World? JAMA. 2000; 284: 483-485).
In fact, any licensed physician who does not prescribe drugs according to such “accepted standards of care” can open themselves up to prosecution and loss of their licenses to practice. I am also sympathetic to the pressures that doctors are under to prescribe out of fear of such repercussions, and their need to pay exorbitant malpractice insurance rates because they are literally forced to harm a handful of patients in their careers by conforming to Big Pharma’s “accepted standards of care.”
By the way, this is the root of the so-called “health care crisis.” Drug therapies are expensive. Modifying symptoms with toxic chemicals, and not getting to the root causes of chronic medical and psychiatric problems, simply “kicks the can down the road” for far worse problems. How do we solve this dilemma? How can a truly integrated model of healthcare evolve in the US which includes both drug therapies and alternative therapies? How can we solve the “health care crisis” by creating a delivery system which is safer, more efficacious and far less expensive?
The Solution to the Healthcare Crisis
The solution, in my opinion, lies in understanding how Big Pharma came to dominate US healthcare in the first place. The answer is simple – the science of pharmacology is exactly that, a science. While most of us who provide non-conventional treatments for our patients believe that much of alternative and integrative medicine is effective, a great deal of research has yet to be done to determine what is valid. This void of research findings allows Big Pharma to take the scientific high ground, dismiss all other competitive therapies as witchcraft and snake oil and then on this scientific footing, dictate to the medical profession, the politicians and the regulators what the accepted standard of care shall be. Until this simple issue is confronted, I cannot foresee how a new standard of care which merges integrative and alternative medicine with conventional medicine can evolve.
Since the strength of Big Pharma is science, how will integrative medicine capture its own scientific turf? This is where functional medicine and predictive genomics shines. Instead of simply medicating the symptoms of chronic medical or psychiatric problems with drugs, why not practice at a higher, more science-based, standard of care and diagnose the causes of maladies, by testing for nutritional deficiencies, toxicities, food allergies, gastrointestinal problems, hormone and neurotransmitter imbalances, metabolic abnormalities and the genetic vulnerabilities to all of that? At the very least we can now diagnose which patients are likely to have detoxification problems with certain classes of drugs and greatly lower morbidity and mortality statistics. Simply put, if you don’t test you’ve guessed!
Only through functional medicine and genomics can integrative medicine practitioners capture the higher scientific ground now occupied by pharmaceutical-based healthcare. Only through functional medicine and genomics can integrative medicine gain the scientific clout to influence public policies and eventually mold US healthcare into a safer, more efficacious and less expensive delivery system. Functional medicine and genomics will also open the door to much needed research required to validate energy medicine and other integrative medicine therapies. However, even though functional medicine and genomics will eventually render most drug therapies obsolete, drugs will always be needed to treat many infectious and toxicity-related problems, as well as many acute and end-stage health conditions.
A truly integrative healthcare system will someday evolve which integrates all approaches, alternative, conventional and functional medicine and predictive genomics.