Is America Becoming a Drug-Dependent Nation?

From the September 28, 2003 New York Daily News comes an article that suggests that America is becoming a drug-dependent nation. The title of the article is, "We need a war vs. legal drugs", and starts off by noting that from 1998 to 2002, sales of anti-depressant medications increased 73% to more than $12 billion, while analeptics, drugs like Ritalin and Adderall that stimulate the central nervous system, increased 167%. These figures were according to IMS Health, a pharmaceutical information and consulting company.

The article goes on to say, "The dramatic increase in the sale of these pharmaceuticals suggest that Americans are well on the way to becoming not only depressed, anxiety-ridden and incapable of the meaningful focus necessary to understand the world in which we live, but also on our way to becoming a drug-dependent nation."

The article takes special exception to the increase in diagnosis and medications of children. Dr. Arthur Caplan, chairman of the medical ethics department at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, commented, "Any time a child reads a little more slowly, we're talking learning disability and administering Ritalin, or any time a kid acts up a bit, instead of giving him detention, we're drugging him. These are definitely problems, in that it's expensive, it may not address the cause of the problem and I've never met a drug yet, including aspirin, that didn't have some side effects."

According to Dr. Caplan, the driving force behind the surge in medications is aggressive direct-to-consumer advertising. Since the relaxation of a 30-year drug marketing agreement in 1997, pharmaceutical companies have tripled their annual advertising to consumers. The result has been a 37% increase in sales of prescription stimulants for children. According to the American Psychiatric Association, primary care physicians now write upward of 60% of anti-depressant prescriptions. Says Caplan, "I think [doctors are] just overwhelmed now with too much marketing, and it drives them toward too much prescribing."

The article closes by noting that American consumers, mostly children, account for more than 90% of global consumption of stimulants. Dr. Caplan sums it up nicely when he says, "If we have four or five times the learning disability or depression or other neurotic illnesses that the Europeans do, then either we got a really bad gene pool through immigration or we're overmedicating."