Tips from Virginia Hopkins on Using this Book
Since my co-author Dr. Earl Mindell and I wrote the first edition of Prescription Alternatives in 1998, the need for a book that guides people to natural alternatives to prescription drugs has escalated dramatically. We are now on our fourth revised and updated edition of this book, because dozens more dangerous drugs come on the market every year.
You truly take your life in your hands when you choose to use a prescription drug. Even though the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) mandate when it was created was to protect consumers from unsafe or ineffective drugs, it now appears to do the opposite: to protect the big drug companies from having to prove their drugs safe and effective before they are released to the public.
The diabetes drug Avandia is just one case in point among many. Research published in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine showed that people who take Avandia have a much higher risk of a heart attack. Instead of withdrawing the drug from the market, the FDA added a warning label to it. This in spite of the fact that a drug safety officer at the FDA estimated that Avandia had caused up to 205,000 heart attacks and strokes, all expensive and debilitating, some fatal.
Deaths caused by improperly prescribed prescription drugs are now the third leading cause of death in the U.S. So-called adverse events reported to the FDA have skyrocketed. An adverse event is defined by the FDA as one resulting in death, a birth defect, disability, hospitalization or requiring intervention to prevent harm. Believe it or not, doctors and hospitals are not required to report adverse events to the FDA, so only a fraction of them are reported.
Dr. Gary Null who publishes an online report called “Death by Medicine” estimates that there are 800,000 deaths a year caused by medical mistakes in general, with 106,000 of them caused by adverse drug events. And yet, there appears to be no will in Washington among our elected representatives to do anything about this out-of-control epidemic, nor are most doctors willing or even able to address the problem. (You can read the details of why in Chapter 1 of Prescription Alternatives.)
Five Steps to Take Before Taking a Prescription Drug
1) Find out if your health problem can be solved without prescription drugs. In truth, virtually all of the health problems for which we are prescribed prescription drugs can be more safely and effectively solved with changes in lifestyle such as better diet, exercise, stopping smoking and stress management, and natural remedies such as nutritional supplements and herbs. Prescription Alternatives has chapters on all common health problems, from diabetes and heart disease to allergies and indigestion, with solutions for solving them without drugs. It’s often more difficult to tackle lifestyle issues than pop a pill, but if the pill causes side effects ranging from headaches to heart attacks, it’s worth the extra effort to make the needed changes.
2) Ignore drug ads on TV. Get real. These are slick, expensive sales pitches to lull and lure you into a seemingly quick fix that will most likely do more harm than good. Popping pills hardly ever solves a health problem, a sleep problem, an allergy problem or depression, and usually makes things worse due to side effects. Many doctors prescribe drugs being advertised on TV simply because patients are clamoring for them. If these drugs were being sold out of the back of a beat up old van in a bad neighborhood, would you take them? Well, I hate to tell you, but what’s being sold on TV isn’t much more reliable or safe.
3) If you must take a prescription drug, do some research to find out what the safest, most effective and least expensive drug is for your problem. A few hours on the internet should give you a wealth of information. Then discuss this with your doctor or pharmacist. You would be surprised at how helpful a pharmacist can be. You can also use the index in the back of Prescription Alternatives to find the name of the drug you’re considering and then check for the possible side effects.
4) Always read up on a drug’s side effects and interactions with other drugs. Drug interactions can be deadly. Prescription Alternatives lists side effects for hundreds of drugs, but you should check the internet for the most recent information on drug interactions. Anytime you combine three or more drugs it’s impossible to predict side effects in every individual—all bets are off—use at your own risk.
You can also ask your pharmacist for the complete drug information sheet on the drug you’re taking, or go online to the manufacturer’s website and find it. You’re not looking for the fluffy, incomplete “patient information,” where they leave out the serious stuff, you’re looking for the “physician information.” You'll find a list of medical terms in Prescription Alternatives that will help you figure out what’s really being said.
For the first three months you take a drug, keep close track of any side effects you might have and report them to your doctor immediately. Many doctors will dismiss claims of drug side effects by patients. Do not accept that attitude—it could make a huge difference in your quality of life, and it could even be a matter of life or death.
5) When you decide to make lifestyle changes and use natural remedies, take them seriously. Keep track of how you’re feeling and monitor your symptoms. If possible, work with a qualified health care professional to help you stay on track. If making lifestyle changes such as healthier eating habits brings up emotional issues, don’t ignore them. There are dozens of useful self-help books available that can help you deal with the issues of making lifestyle changes.