The American health care rule for prescription drugs is generally: Ask (or just go online) and ye shall receive.
But with an economic meltdown comes serious resource reallocation, and lost jobs and slashed earnings/net worths mean less money to pay for all those Trazodone and Ativan refills. Consequently, as the New York Times reports, consumers are cutting back on prescription drug use in an effort to curb spending. And the effects are already hitting drug companies: Pfizer says that sales of Lipitor, the world’s largest-selling prescription med, has seen sales drop 13 percent in the third quarter, and Merck just announced it’s slashing 7,200 jobs.
Of course, there are plenty of reasons why this is bad:
We have an aging population with more health problems requiring medication, letting those people drop their meds may lead to an increase in preventable medical emergencies. Our health care costs—already skyrocketing—could go up even more, and our standard of living could go down (though given the events of the last few months, that’s somewhat inevitable).
Still, it’s hard not to argue that there could be a silver lining—specifically, that an already over-medicated population might rethink the question of just how necessary all those anxiety and restless leg syndrome pills really are. As the Times notes, the number of filled prescriptions has increased 72 percent in the last decade, to 3.8 billion. It’s worth asking—particularly in the wake of umpteen scandals involving doctors and drug companies—whether eliminating some, or many of these prescriptions might leave us better off in the long run.
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