The walking drugged
“Drugs never cure disease. They merely hush the voice of nature’s protest, and pull down the danger signals she erects along the pathway of transgression. Any poison taken into the system has to be reckoned with later on even though it palliates present symptoms. Pain may disappear, but the patient is left in a worse condition, though unconscious of it at the time.” Daniel. H. Kress, M.D.
In honor of October, the upcoming new season of the Walking Dead and all zombie lovers everywhere, I want to discuss zombies. Not the hollywood version, but the real zombies. Zombies are real and present today. I have previously written about the growing zombie epidemic in our culture. The zombie epidemic continues to grow. The glaring new fact is that those effected are younger and younger. Now, our children are targeted.
Kansas has declared October Zombie Preparedness month. Could this be the real zombie apocalypse?
Well maybe… but not really. It is simply just the drugging of America.
The current legalization of marijuana movement has been coined the doping of America. I previously wrote a blog post entitled “Don’t be Duped to Dope”. This post didn’t deal with marijuana, but dealt with the problem of Testosterone overdosing (doping) under the guidance of a medical provider—what I like to call the modern day methadone clinics for men. Doping is not just confined to street corners, but increasingly originates out of the doctor office. The 2 are not dissimilar. The goal of both is to manipulate biochemistry to take individuals to unfamiliar, unnatural, and non-physiologic places. The difference is that one uses an illicit drug and one uses a hormone prescription.
With any Hollywood zombie apocalypse movie, there is always a common theme–origin. Whether the origin was a virus or bacteria, a common theme is to pursue the origin of the zombie outbreak. The walking drugged from the drugging of America is no different. What is the origin? What is the gateway?
The origin and what I want to talk about in this post are gateway drugs. That is after all what marijuana is referred to as–a gateway drug. Marijuana use alone has been shown to be associated with a high drop out rate from school. As a gateway drug, marijuana has the potential to lead to harder illicit drugs with more negative biochemical effects. Eventually, addiction and destruction of life may result. Some may refute this claim, but repetition of this drug time-line is not coincidence but truth many. Gateway drugs are not just a term to use with illicit drugs. Marijuana is a gateway drug that one must get off the street (at least outside of Washington and Colorado). The gateway drugs I am talking about in this post are the gateway drugs that one gets from a physicians office. Just because they are prescription, doesn’t mean they are not drugs. Just because they are prescription does not mean they are not a gateway drug and at risk of the same time-line decline.
I like to call them the Prescription Gateways. A drug that leads to more drugs that results in more negative biochemical effects is a gateway drug irrespective of whether it is an illicit drug or a prescription drug. One drug is historically not socially accepted, where the other is not only socially accepted, but is sought after as if an addict searches for his/her next high. Think about it, the treatment of grief with anti-depressant is well accepted, but treating pain with marijuana would be socially frowned upon by many. Both numb the consumer to the pain or their grief. Both disrupt and alter neurochemistry—one just comes from a medical office where the other comes from a street corner. A recently published study found that anti-depressants alter the brain architecture in just 1 dose. Not 2 weeks, not 2 months, but 1 dose changes the brain architecture. Should that bring cheers or fears?
Prescriptions often leads to other prescriptions. This leads to more side effects, which leads to more drugs to counter the side effects. The result is a decline in optimal biochemical function and a reliance on drugs to prop one up. Stimulants to propel one through the day and sleepers to get one to sleep at night—uppers and downers they used to be called. If you think that sounds like addiction and dependence, you are right. Whether one is talking about illicit drugs or prescription drugs there is addiction, there is micronutrient drug depletion, there is dependance, there is biochemical dysfunction, there is a gateway.
You know the story. An individual is started on a SSRI i.e. lexapro, zoloft, paxil for stress. This leads to disrupted sleep and sexual dysfunction. The sexual dysfunction leads to trials with cialis, viagra…For the sleep disruption, prescription sleep aids are required—see ambien and lunesta. For some, rebound insomnia results and this typically leads to a benzodiazapene. You know them as xanax, valium and the like. The sleep aids leave one feeling hung over and sedated in the morning, so morning stimulants in the form of prescriptions like nuvigil and others are started. Downers and Uppers…Not to dissimilar to Elvis Presley and we know how he ended up. Before one knows it, a visit to the doctor for stress leads to 4 or more prescriptions in relatively rapid fire manner. The gateway drug in this all to common example is the anti-depressant.
The earlier one is exposed to these prescription gateway drugs, the more a chance that irreparable harm is done and harder drugs result. The prescription gateway drugs that I want to specifically focus on are the drugs we give our children in prescriptions.
Make no doubt about it. We are drugging our children with gateways. One out of every 5 children under the age of 10 takes at least one prescription drug and 22.4% over the age of 10 take at least one prescription. The regular use of at least one prescription drug increased to almost 30% in the group of 12-19. The figure to the right reveals the increasing trend of prescription drugs in all age groups in one decade.
Instead of the marijuana gateway and its socially negative annotations, these drugs are much more socially accepted. You know them by their prescription names: adderall, ritalin, and vyvanse. You get them from your doctor and medical provider. These prescription drugs are stimulants commonly prescribed for the treatment of ADD/ADHD.
The incidence of the diagnosis of ADD/ADHD has steadily risen. According to the CDC, the rate increase, on average, increased by 3% a year from 1996 to 2006, but this increased to 5% per year from 2007 to 2011. An article published in 2012 in the journal Academic Pediatrics, found a 66% increase from 2000 to 2010. Currently, 11% of children in America carry a diagnosis of ADD/ADHD (1 in 5 boys and 1 in 11 girls). The average age of diagnosis is 7. That means that many children are much younger at the time of diagnosis and initiation of drug therapy than in previous years. This equals 3.5 million children from age 4-17 that take prescribed stimulants for ADD/ADHD. This 3.5 million number represents a 28% increase from 2007 numbers.
The experts point to an increase in awareness to explain the increasing numbers of ADD/ADHD. I guess the physicians and others from prior centuries lacked the enlightenment we have today (insert sarcasm). Awareness or enlightenment has nothing to do with the increase in numbers. We are changing. Our environments are changing. Our diets are changing. Thus our biochemistry changes. This interplay between our environment and our diet with our genetic code provides the results we see. This is the only way to explain the rapid change in genetic expression. It takes thousands of years for genes to change, but it only takes 1 to 2 generations to change the expression of genetics. A recent JAMA article on autism found that autism risk was evenly distributed between genetics and environment. But I digress.
An increase in stimulant prescriptions in the children of America has followed. According to the NIH, prescribed stimulants in children and adolescence has steadily risen. Recently, the fastest rising rates have occurred in those 13-18. Though the numbers don’t show a consistent, uniform over prescription of stimulants, “pockets of overprescribing do exist”. This is evident in the 7.3% incidence of stimulant prescriptions in children in North Carolina, but only 3.4% met the diagnostic criteria for ADD/ADHD. State by state comparisons reflect this as well. In Nebraska, prescription stimulants account for 69% of therapy for those with ADHD. In contrast, California the rate is just 41%. Some areas of the country are quicker to band-aid a problem with a pill.
This prescription drug misuse/abuse is not just confined to older children and adolescents. According to the CDC, data points to > 10,000 children < 3 years of age are prescribed these powerful drugs for ADD/ADHD outside “currently accepted guidelines”. Guidelines? How about morality and responsibility? Have you ever met a toddler? They are all calm, well focused, well behaved, and highly attentive. Of course not! Every toddler has focus and attention problems. Every toddler is hyperactive, irrational, and crazy. Toddlers are the energy bunny with a super-charged lithium battery! They go until they drop. They recharge and repeat the cycle. That is what toddlers do. That is how toddlers are created. Who are we to prescribe such powerful stimulant and psychotropic medications on the young and the innocent? Who are we to play god? But is that not what we are doing here?
This prescription acceptance has led to a problem in perception of benefit. Nearly 33% of parents believe that prescription stimulants can improve their children’s academic performance irrespective of whether they have ADD/ADHD or not. The result has led to a significant misuse and abuse by teens and college age young adults. A recent survey found that 25% of teens have misused/abused prescription stimulants for the purpose of an academic edge. This is an increase of 33% over the previous 5 years. More startlingly, 13% report that they misused/abused prescription stimulants that were prescribed to others. A few more startling stats from the PATS data:
- 20% of children have misused/abused prescription stimulants by age 14
- 27% believe the misuse/abuse of prescription stimulants is safer then the same with illicit drugs
Though these prescription stimulants have increased in their social acceptance, they are still gateway drugs. These prescription drugs lead to more prescription drugs. The prescriptions lead to harder prescription drugs. That is the definition of gateway drugs—whether the gateway drugs are illicit or prescription. One is just socially accepted to receive from a physician’s office and another from a street corner. After all, LSD and heroin were once FDA approved prescription drugs. One can only wonder what we may say was once an FDA approved drug 50 years from now?
We are all familiar with the scenario: one prescription turns to 2 to treat the side effects of #1. The second drug creates sedation during the day so a 3rd stimulant is needed for morning pickup. School is competitive and a 4th is needed to aid focus. Then a 5th is needed to wind down for sleep at night. This is a far to common scenario. Reminds me of a male client I have that takes 8 prescription drugs daily and a female client that found 2 prescription drugs rapidly accelerate to 10 over a 2 year time frame. Polypharmacy is not good at any age, but the drugging of America is starting at increasingly earlier ages. Because everybody is doing it, earlier and more polypharmacy results. These new gateway drugs are just starting the process at an earlier age—a starting point of a lifetime of uppers and downers that lead to dependence, more prescriptions, and more side effects. It doesn’t lead to Health & Wellness, it only feeds pharmacy profits.
But of course, there are long term studies—right? Long term studies that show efficacy? Long term studies that show safety? That would be a big, fat negative. Actually, long-term studies are starting to reveal some disturbing trends— behavior problems, difficulties with multi-tasking and problems with short-term memory as a result of long-term use/abuse of stimulant prescriptions. I love the conclusion statement of Wen-Jun Gao of Drexel University, “In short, any brief enhancements in attention gained by taking the drug may come at a high cost to the brain later in life.” The problem is that later in life is often to late.
That being said, there currently is a long-term population study ongoing. The problem with this study is that no end point has been set, no prior consent of therapy has been obtained, study design is poor, and no IRB approval has been obtained. This is the observational study that is occurring on our children and the people of America today. This study will provide the answers to the efficacy and safety questions provided through the observation of long-term prescription use on the children of America.
My focus here is not to bash the use of prescription drugs. In selective instances, they can have tremendously positive impacts. The operative word is “selective”. My focus here is to highlight the massive, rapid use/abuse of prescription drugs in all aspects of life (including the alarming increase use by the youngest in our society) and the long-term consequences of these choices for our children and then our society as a whole. We currently don’t know the long-term impact of these hard drugs on our children. Disturbing trends are starting to emerge and we will know the full effects in about 20 to 30 years. That is called a prospective observational study. That is exactly what is occurring right under our collective noses without our collective approval at our collective expense.