by Abbie Llewelyn, volteface.me, 30 September 2016
“Doctors are misinformed, patients are misled and millions of people are taking medication with no benefit for them.”
More than one billion prescriptions are dished out in the UK each year, which is 2.7 million per day or 1,900 every minute, an increase of nearly 2/3 in just a decade. And the increasingly widespread use of prescription medication can have some serious consequences.
Most people are aware that the over-prescription of antibiotics has unfortunately led to the development of resistant strains of bacteria and many people are campaigning for more restrained prescription of antibiotics. However, an interview with Aseem Malhotra, a London-based cardiologist, reveals that the problem is by no means limited to antibiotics; in fact, there is a worrying trend in the over-prescription of drugs for all sorts of ailments, leading to ever increasing costs of side effects. He explains that this is due to misinformation at all levels in the system, from how research into drugs is funded, to how it is reported in academic journals, to how their pros and cons are presented to patients.
Aseem Malhotra, who trained as an interventional cardiologist, practices in London and is a former consultant clinical associate to the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges. Last year he became the youngest member to be appointed to the board of trustees of health think tank The King’s Fund. He has campaigned for years on a number of issues including transparency in health care, fighting excess sugar consumption and criticising the focus on total cholesterol and use of statins. He spoke to us about what he calls “an epidemic of misinformation” that has led to people undergoing unnecessary treatments.
The BBC programme The Doctor Who Gave Up Drugs has recently brought the issue of prescription drugs back into the limelight, highlighting how prescription of drugs has increased massively in the last five years especially, for example, prescription of painkillers (up by 25%) and antidepressants for teens (up by 50%). It also presents the alternative to this, one that Malhotra is also endorsing and led on, that other treatments such as lifestyle interventions like diet and exercise can be just as effective, if not more so, than drugs. It is important to take a holistic approach to health, but the culture of medicine at the moment means that people simply want a miracle pill to solve all their problems, or “a pill for every ill” as Malhotra called it.
Bias in funding for drugs research