Dr. Murray Feingold: Is disaster waiting at the pharmacy?

Dr. Murray Feingold

Recently, I stopped at a drug store to buy a newspaper and strolled by the pharmacy counter. There was a long line of people waiting to pick up their prescriptions. And they weren't all oldsters.

Looking at all of these people brought to mind a concern I have regarding the huge number of people who are taking medications.

What will they do if there is some type of disaster and there is no way for them to get their meds? To my knowledge there are no solid back-up plans to address this potentially serious issue.

How many of these people really need all of the medications they are taking?

Studies have shown that we are an overmedicated society.

Approximately 75 percent of all adults take at least one prescription drug. During the past 10 years the number of people taking a medication for diabetes or high blood pressure has increased by 75 percent. The number of prescriptions for antidepressants has increased by 50 percent.

The cost for all these medications is staggering. One estimate is that it costs close to $15 billion a year.

Medical progress is responsible for a great deal of the problem. Because of medical advances, people are living much longer and about a third or more of all medications are prescribed for this group.

The drug industry continues to produce newer, more effective medications that are usually quite expensive.

Today, more drugs are frequently used to treat an illness. For example, some people with hypertension are now taking three or four medications instead of one or two.

Years ago there were no statin drugs such as Lipitor or Zocor. Now, probably the majority of senior citizens are taking some type of statin medication.

During the recent debate on health care, because of the financial burden the cost of medications has placed on our economy, there were rumblings of limiting medications for our senior citizens.

It is obvious that we cannot continue on the present path regarding medications. Changes need to be made.

One thing is certain, there will be more intervention by the federal government - the automobile industry comes to mind.

Also, there will be increased limitations on the medications patients will be able to take.

Doctors will also encounter more paperwork if they want to prescribe drugs that are not on federal or third party-approved lists.

Consider today the glory days as far as getting your medications because tomorrow will be a much different story.

Massachusetts-based Dr. Murray Feingold is the physician in chief of the National Birth Defects Center, medical editor of WBZ-TV and WBZ radio, and president of the Genesis Fund. The Genesis Fund is a nonprofit organization that funds the care of children born with birth defects, mental retardation and genetic diseases.