- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Ask people which special interest drops the most lobby money into D.C. and most would guess attorneys or environmentalists, or perhaps even unions. But it’s none of the above. It’s actually Big Pharma.

And that explains a lot — namely, why America has become a nation of pill poppers. We have a prescription for everything nowadays. Don’t agree? Flip on the TV. Count how many different ads cross the screen in any given hour promising fixes for this, cures for that. Then count how many others cross promising fixes and cures for the side effects the first batch brings.

In 2015, Big Pharma spent $5.4 billion on ads that targeted consumers, Kantar Media reported. In return, Americans spent $457 billion on prescription drugs, Drug Watch reported.

No wonder Big Pharma stomps so heavily into the political world.

“The pharmaceutical industry is holding on to its title as the top lobbying force in Washington,” OpenSecrets.org reported. “Drugmakers have spent more than $129 million through September, slightly down from nearly $133 million at this time last year, but still far more than any other industry.”

That doesn’t include any lobby cash for medical devices and dietary supplements; that’s just the money from drug makers.

Yes, prescription pills are big business in America.

A National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, titled “Prescription Drug Use in the United States,” and published in May, revealed that between 2015 and 2016, nearly 46% of Americans used prescription drugs within the 30 days preceding the survey — 18% of whom were children up to age 11 and 27%, adolescents between the ages of 12 and 19.

That’s down from figures from 2007-2008, when the National Center for Health Statistics found 50% of Americans using one or more prescription drugs.

The question is: How much of this pill-popping is truly necessary?

In 2017, Consumer Reports ran a survey that found 55% of Americans were regularly taking prescription medication — and not just one pill, but rather, on average, four. Many of those surveyed also said they were taking various over-the-counter drugs and vitamins along with their prescribed medicines, a situation that can lead consumers down a risky path of mixing medicines that shouldn’t be mixed.

But it’s the sudden spike in prescriptions that’s even more concerning.

Between 1997 and 2016, drug prescriptions for Americans rose by 85%, from 2.4 billion to 4.5 billion, Quintile IMS found, WebMD.com reported.

So is it that Americans are just getting sicker and medical researchers are getting better at their jobs? Or are there other factors at play — such as a trend toward prescribing pills simply because they’re there to prescribe?

Here’s one clue: Consumer Reports, in its study, listed a dozen health conditions that are frequently treated with prescriptions but that could also be addressed via lifestyle changes. Among: ADHD, back and joint pain, dementia, milder forms of depression, heartburn, insomnia, low testosterone, bone loss, bladder overactivity, early onset diabetes, early onset high blood pressure, and obesity.

Take ADHD.

In 2016, Stat News reported that about 75% of children diagnosed with ADHD were taking prescribed medicines. That’s a heck of a market. And it’s added up big. Between 2006 and 2015, sales of ADHD medicines nearly tripled, from $4.7 billion to $12.7 billion, IBISWorld researchers found.

That’s just one ailment, one diagnosis, one drug.

The Food and Drug Administration has approved in the neighborhood of 1,500 drugs in its decadeslong history, the Regulatory Affairs Professionals Society reported.

That’s a big market.

That’s a Big Pharma market.

And that explains Big Pharma’s number one spot on the D.C. lobby circuit.

Let the consumer beware: Not all that ails necessarily requires pills.

• Cheryl Chumley can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @ckchumley.

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