According to new studies, more Americans are taking prescription drugs than ever before. Experts say obesity may be responsible for this increase in prescription drug use.
According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), one-third of all Americans are now classified as obese. Defined as having a body mass index of 30 or higher, obesity can lead to a host of health problems including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, stroke and certain types of cancer. Given these risks, many physicians prescribe medication to combat the side effects of obesity, resulting in a parallel rise in obesity and prescription drug use.
A recent study from JAMA confirmed that the recently noted rise in prescription drug use is directly linked to diseases related to obesity. Three out of five Americans now take a prescription drug, with the majority of prescriptions written for antidepressants and medications to treat high cholesterol and diabetes.
Obesity: It’s More Than a Number
Why do doctors take obesity so seriously? After all, isn’t weight just a number on a scale?
Obesity directly or indirectly causes at least 10 health problems that can impact a person’s health, longevity, and quality of life. Common health conditions linked to obesity include:
- High blood pressure: When you carry more weight than your body needs, the heart has to work harder to pump a larger volume of blood. This results in high blood pressure, which can cause heart failure or strokes.
- High overall cholesterol, with high LDL cholesterol: There remains some controversy over whether high cholesterol is a sign of inflammation or a cause of arterial inflammation. Doctors do know, however, that cholesterol plaques in the circulatory system can lead to heart attacks and strokes. LDL or low-density lipoproteins are the supposed “bad guys” of the cholesterol world, leading to more problems when elevated than other forms of cholesterol. High cholesterol can be a precursor to any number of problems, and is often treated with statin medications.
- Type 2 diabetes: Type 2 diabetes occurs frequently in patients with obesity. In Type 2 obesity, the pancreas continues to make insulin, the chief hormones responsible for ushering glucose into the body’s cells, but the cells’ receptor sites fail to respond to insulin. It’s like a key that no longer works in a lock to open the cell membrane so that glucose can be stored. The resulting high blood glucose levels, if left untreated, can cause coma, blindness, organ failure and even death over time. Type 2 diabetes can often be reversed when obesity is resolved and patients return to normal weight.
- Coronary heart disease: Obesity causes the heart to work harder, which can lead to heart failure and damage.
- Strokes: High cholesterol can lead to plaque and blood clots, which in turn cause a stroke.
- Gall bladder disease: The gall bladder is part of the gastrointestinal system. It produces bile, which helps to digest fats. Gall stones forming inside the gall bladder can lead to painful gall bladder diseases and surgery to remove the gall bladder. If the stones are expelled by the gall bladder’s squeezing motion, they can become lodges in the liver’s bile ducts, causing dangerous liver problems.
- Sleep apnea: The excess body fat and weight associated with obesity puts added pressure on the body while you’re laying down. This results in sleep apnea, a
condition in which shallow breathing leads to pauses in breathing while asleep. Although that doesn’t sound bad, it damages your health over time as your sleep is disrupted. It can also make surgery requiring general anesthesia more dangerous.
- Osteoarthritis: Osteoarthritis is a painful condition in which the joints and cartilage break down. Excess weight strains all of the joints in your body, but especially those in your feet, ankles, knees and hips. Arthritis is much more common among obese people because of the excess pressure on these joints.
- Some cancers: Breast, endometrial, colon, gallbladder and liver cancer are all linked to obesity. Not every form of these cancers is directly related to obesity, but some types are.
- Depression: Obese people tend to suffer more from depression. Whether this is a biological byproduct of obesity or a social consequence remains unknown.
Prescription Drug Use and Obesity
The two most frequently prescribed medicines in the United States are statin (cholesterol-lowering) medications and antidepressants. Doctors, trying to help their patients live full and healthy lives, attempt to offset the side effects of obesity by prescribing medicines to alleviate the symptoms. Unfortunately, if the root cause isn’t treated and patients do not lose weight, they may end up on even more medications over time.
More people today are taking five or more medications daily, a fact which concerns healthcare professionals. The more medications you take, the more chances there are for medicines to interact with each other. Medications can increase or decrease the effects of each other, depending on how they react with the body and the liver pathways that metabolize, or break down the drugs.
Blood thinners like Warfarin, sometimes prescribed to prevent a stroke, can interact with numerous other medications. The American Academy of Family Physicians lists many commonly prescribed medicines that can negatively interact and harm patients. There are many other potential interactions, including interactions among prescription drugs and over-the-counter drugs, prescription drugs and food, and prescription drugs interacting with other prescriptions. Although pharmacists and doctors do their best to prevent drug interactions from happening, the more drugs patients are prescribed, the greater the chance of a potential drug interaction.
Most Frequently Prescribed Medications
According to the JAMA study, 18 drug classes are prescribed for 2.5 percent of the entire population at any one time. Approximately 15 percent of the population takes five or more prescription drugs daily.
The JAMA study found that the most frequently prescribed medications include:
- Antihyperlipidemic agents: This class of medications is used to lower blood cholesterol levels. High blood cholesterol is often associated with obesity.
- Antidepressants: Antidepressants are prescribed for anxiety disorders, depression and related conditions. Some antidepressants are also prescribed for fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue and chronic pain. Most antidepressants are SSRIs, or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors. These medicines make serotonin more readily available to the body by inhibiting the body’s methods of recycling the neurotransmitter.
- Prescription proton-pump inhibitors: These medications are prescribed to treat acid reflux disease and chronic heart burn. Many obese people suffer from both, although not all people with acid reflux are obese.
- Muscle relaxants: These medications are often prescribed to ease the pain of a muscle spasm, such as lower back pain.
Are Americans Taking Too Many Prescriptions?
Medicine has become increasingly specialized over the past several decades. Instead of visiting one physician for multiple complaints, a patient is sent to a pulmonologist, cardiologist, dermatologist, neurologist and so on. The result can be a fistful of prescriptions from different prescribers, sometimes treating the side effects of previous prescriptions without realizing it. The results can be catastrophic to a patient’s health.
One patient as reported on CNN began taking sleeping pills during a time of personal stress in her life. After taking sleeping pills, she developed lung problems. This eventually led to seizures and depression. Each prescription medicine came with side effects, but because she was sent to various specialists, none realized that the other prescriptions may be causing or magnifying symptoms. She eventually entered into drug rehab to treat her prescription drug dependence and the physical consequences of taking too many medications at once.
Prescription medicines are tested individually in laboratories and clinical trials. Side effects are noted based upon single drug use, not multiple drug interactions. With data supporting the notion that many people are taking five or more prescriptions, the chances of people becoming sicker from taking too many prescription drugs are increasing daily.
Unintended Consequences: Rise in Prescription Drug Abuse
With the rise in obesity and prescription drug use, and the statistics from the JAMA study indicating the steady rise in the number of prescriptions taken by Americans, the question remains whether or not Americans are taking too many prescriptions and what, if any, impact this has on the overall health of the population. One unintended consequence may be the additional rise in prescription drug addictions.
While it’s true that it’s unlikely, or even impossible, to become physically addicted to cholesterol-lower medicines or high blood pressure medications, the more prescriptions are accepted as a normal part of life, the greater the risk of people becoming addicted to other prescription medicines.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse calls the growing prescription drug abuse problem a “serious public health problem” in America. When 52 million Americans, or about 20 percent of the population age 12 and over, have taken prescription drugs for non-medical reasons at least once in their lifetimes, the abundance and ease of prescription medicines in this country should be scrutinized.
The most frequently abused prescription drugs include stimulants, opioids and depressants. Among those taking such drugs, 14 percent actually meet the clinical definition of drug dependence. These drugs can lead to serious dependence and addiction.
Pharmacists as the First Line of Defense
Because so many people visit specialists, and many specialists don’t have the opportunity to communicate with one another about a patient’s conditions, pharmacists are often the best line of defense. Because pharmacists have access to a patient’s full prescription record, they can spot potentially deadly interactions and flag them for the patient and physician to review.
Pharmacists can also spot potential prescription drug abuse. Patients filling prescriptions for the same medicines prescribed by different doctors may be at risk for drug dependence and should be counseled or referred to a specialist.
Treating the Obesity Epidemic
Never before has the human race had such access to abundant, good-tasting, inexpensive food. Combine this with the rise of modern transportation and sedentary lifestyles and you have a recipe for the obesity epidemic.
There’s more going on than simply good food and less exercise. Obesity is often a physical manifestation of an addiction called compulsive eating. Compulsive eaters, like alcoholics or drug addicts, turn to food to quell uncomfortable feelings. They can become addicted to the act of eating, or to specific foods.
It sounds unusual, but it’s far from uncommon. Overeaters Anonymous, like Alcoholics Anonymous, is a 12-step based program that helps compulsive eaters recover from food addictions.
If someone you love is obese, they may need more help than a diet and exercise plan. Most people know that moving more and eating less are the simple ways to combat obesity. Yet few people actually take the steps they need to lose weight. For some people suffering from a food addiction or eating disorder, it can be difficult or impossible to lose weight. Their addiction is just as serious as that of an alcoholic or drug addict.
End Addiction Now
With the growing use of prescription drugs in America, more people than ever before are at risk of becoming dependent on drugs. Multiple prescriptions can cause terrible side effects, and some cannot be stopped abruptly. Some people may need to enter a treatment facility to safely stop taking prescription medicines.
For others, prescription medications have already turned into a nightmare of addiction. Opioids such as OxyContin, tranquilizers and stimulants can all cause physical dependence and addiction.
Other people taking myriad drugs to treat the side effects of obesity may not necessarily need rehab for drug addiction but for food addiction. Compulsive eating can be just as deadly as a prescription drug addiction or an addiction to street drugs.
Whether you suffer from obesity, prescription drug addiction, compulsive eating or an addiction to any other substance or behavior, help is available.
JourneyPure Emerald Coast offers treatment for addiction, substance abuse, chemical dependency and mental health challenges. You don’t have to struggle with an addiction to prescription drugs or other substances any longer. We know what it’s like to want to change, and our treatment facility offers you hope and help.
We can also help you if you have a medicine cabinet full of prescription medicines and you want to quit but aren’t sure how.
Whether you’re looking for outpatient help or a long-term residential stay, the team at JourneyPure Emerald Coast is ready to help. We know what you’re going through and are ready to help you make the first step. Call us today.