Dr. Rath Health Foundation

Dr. Rath Health Foundation

Responsibility for a healthy world Dr. Rath Research Institute 100+ Studies Published In PubMed

Death By Medicine

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Public Suggestions On Iatrogenesis

In a telephone survey, 1,207 adults were asked to indicate how effective they thought the following would be in reducing preventable medical errors that resulted in serious harm: (36)

  • giving doctors more time to spend with patients: very effective 78%
  • requiring hospitals to develop systems to avoid medical errors: very effective 74%
  • better training of health professionals: very effective 73%
  • using only doctors specially trained in intensive care medicine on intensive care units: very effective 73%
  • requiring hospitals to report all serious medical errors to a state agency: very effective 71%
  • increasing the number of hospital nurses: very effective 69%
  • reducing the work hours of doctors-in-training to avoid fatigue: very effective 66%
  • encouraging hospitals to voluntarily report serious medical errors to a state agency: very effective 62%

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Drug Iatrogenesis

Drugs comprise the major treatment modality of scientific medicine. With the discovery of the “Germ Theory” medical scientists convinced the public that infectious organisms were the cause of illness. Finding the “cure” for these infections proved much harder than anyone imagined. From the beginning, chemical drugs promised much more than they delivered. But far beyond not working, the drugs also caused incalculable side effects. The drugs themselves, even when properly prescribed, have side effects that can be fatal, as Lazarou’s study (1) shows. But human error can make the situation even worse.

Medication Errors

A survey of a 1992 national pharmacy database found a total of 429,827 medication errors from 1,081 hospitals. Medication errors occurred in 5.22% of patients admitted to these hospitals each year. The authors concluded that a minimum of 90,895 patients annually were harmed by medication errors in the country as a whole. (37)

A 2002 study shows that 20% of hospital medications for patients had dosage mistakes. Nearly 40% of these errors were considered potentially harmful to the patient. In a typical 300-patient hospital the number of errors per day were 40. (38)

Problems involving patients’ medications were even higher the following year. The error rate intercepted by pharmacists in this study was 24%, making the potential minimum number of patients harmed by prescription drugs 417,908. (39)

Recent Adverse Drug Reactions

More recent studies on adverse drug reactions show that the figures from 1994 (published in Lazarou’s 1998 JAMA article) may be increasing. A 2003 study followed four hundred patients after discharge from a tertiary care hospital (hospital care that requires highly specialized skills, technology, or support services). Seventy-six patients (19%) had adverse events. Adverse drug events were the most common at 66%. The next most common events were procedure-related injuries at 17%. (40)

In a NEJM study an alarming one-in-four patients suffered observable side effects from the more than 3.34 billion prescription drugs filled in 2002. (41) One of the doctors who produced the study was interviewed by Reuters and commented that, "With these 10-minute appointments, it's hard for the doctor to get into whether the symptoms are bothering the patients." (42) William Tierney, who editorialized on the NEJM study, said “… given the increasing number of powerful drugs available to care for the aging population, the problem will only get worse.” The drugs with the worst record of side effects were the SSRIs, the NSAIDs, and calcium-channel blockers. Reuters also reported that prior research has suggested that nearly 5% of hospital admissions - over 1 million per year - are the result of drug side effects. But most of the cases are not documented as such. The study found one of the reasons for this failure: in nearly two-thirds of the cases, doctors couldn’t diagnose drug side effects or the side effects persisted because the doctor failed to heed the warning signs.

Medicating Our Feelings

We only need to look at the side effects of antidepressant drugs, which give hope to a depressed population. Patients seeking a more joyful existence and relief from worry, stress, and anxiety, fall victim to the messages blatantly displayed on TV and billboards. Often, instead of relief, they also fall victim to a myriad of iatrogenic side effects of antidepressant medication.

Also, a whole generation of antidepressant users has resulted from young people growing up on Ritalin. Medicating youth and modifying their emotions must have some impact on how they learn to deal with their feelings. They learn to equate coping with drugs and not their inner resources. As adults, these medicated youth reach for alcohol, drugs, or even street drugs, to cope. According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, “Ritalin acts much like cocaine.” (43) Today’s marketing of mood-modifying drugs, such as Prozac or Zoloft, makes them not only socially acceptable but almost a necessity in today’s stressful world.

Television Diagnosis

In order to reach the widest audience possible, drug companies are no longer just targeting medical doctors with their message about antidepressants. By 1995 drug companies had tripled the amount of money allotted to direct advertising of prescription drugs to consumers. The majority of the money is spent on seductive television ads. From 1996 to 2000, spending rose from $791 million to nearly $2.5 billion. (44) Even though $2.5 billion may seem like a lot of money, the authors comment that it only represents 15% of the total pharmaceutical advertising budget. According to medical experts “there is no solid evidence on the appropriateness of prescribing that results from consumers requesting an advertised drug.” However, the drug companies maintain that direct-to-consumer advertising is educational. Dr. Sidney M. Wolfe, of the Public Citizen Health Research Group in Washington, D.C., argues that the public is often misinformed about these ads. (45) People want what they see on television and are told to go to their doctor for a prescription. Doctors in private practice either acquiesce to their patients’ demands for these drugs or spend valuable clinic time trying to talk patients out of unnecessary drugs. Dr. Wolfe remarks that one important study found that people mistakenly believe that the “FDA reviews all ads before they are released and allows only the safest and most effective drugs to be promoted directly to the public.” (46)

How Do We Know Drugs Are Safe?

Another aspect of scientific medicine that the public takes for granted is the testing of new drugs. Unlike the class of people that take drugs who are ill and need medication, in general, drugs are tested on individuals who are fairly healthy and not on other medications that can interfere with findings. But when they are declared “safe” and enter the drug prescription books, they are naturally going to be used by people on a variety of other medications and who also have a lot of other health problems. Then, a new Phase of drug testing called Post-Approval comes into play, which is the documentation of side effects once drugs hit the market. In one very telling report, the General Accounting Office (an agency of the U.S. Government) "found that of the 198 drugs approved by the FDA between 1976 and 1985... 102 (or 51.5%) had serious post-approval risks... the serious post-approval risks (included) heart failure, myocardial infarction, anaphylaxis, respiratory depression and arrest, seizures, kidney and liver failure, severe blood disorders, birth defects and fetal toxicity, and blindness." (47)

The investigative show NBC’s “Dateline” wondered if your doctor is moonlighting as a drug rep. After a year-long investigation they reported that because doctors can legally prescribe any drug to any patient for any condition, drug companies heavily promote "off-label" and frequently inappropriate and non-tested uses of these medications in spite of the fact that these drugs are only approved for specific indications they have been tested for. (48)

The leading causes of adverse drug reactions are antibiotics (17%), cardiovascular drugs (17%), chemotherapy (15%), and analgesics and anti-inflammatory agents (15%). (49)

Specific Drug Iatrogenesis: Antibiotics

Dr. Egger, in a recent editorial, wrote that after fifty years of increasing use of antibiotics, 30 million pounds of antibiotics are used in America per year. (50) Twenty-five million pounds of this total are used in animal husbandry. The vast majority of this amount, twenty-three million pounds, is used to try to prevent disease, the stress of shipping, and to promote growth. Only 2 million pounds are given for specific animal infections. Dr. Egger reminds us that low concentrations of antibiotics are measurable in many of our foods, rivers, and streams around the world. Much of this is seeping into bodies of water from animal farms.

Egger says overuse of antibiotics results in food-borne infections resistant to antibiotics. Salmonella is found in 20% of ground meat but constant exposure of cattle to antibiotics has made 84% of salmonella resistant to at least one anti-salmonella antibiotic. Diseased animal food accounts for 80% of salmonellosis in humans, or 1.4 million cases per year. The conventional approach to dealing with this epidemic is to radiate food to try to kill all organisms but keep using the antibiotics that cause the original problem. Approximately 20% of chickens are contaminated with Campylobacter jejuni causing 2.4 million human cases of illness annually. Fifty-four percent of these organisms are resistant to at least one anti-campylobacter antimicrobial.

A ban on growth-promoting antibiotics in Denmark began in 1999, which led to a decrease from 453,200 pounds to 195,800 pounds within a year. Another report from Scandinavia found that taking away antibiotic growth promoters had no or minimal effect on food production costs. Egger further warns that in America the current crowded, unsanitary methods of animal farming support constant stress and infection, and are geared toward high antibiotic use. He says these conditions would have to be changed along with cutting back on antibiotic use.

In America, over 3 million pounds of antibiotics are used every year on humans. With a population of 284 million Americans, this amount is enough to give every man, woman and child 10 teaspoons of pure antibiotics per year. Egger says that exposure to a steady stream of antibiotics has altered pathogens such as Streptococcus pneumoniae, Staplococcus aureus, and entercocci, to name a few.

Almost half of patients with upper respiratory tract infections in the U.S. still receive antibiotics from their doctor. (51) According to the CDC, 90% of upper respiratory infections are viral and should not be treated with antibiotics. In Germany the prevalence for systemic antibiotic use in children aged 0-6 years was 42.9%. (52)

Data taken from nine U.S. health plans between 1996-2000 on antibiotic use in 25,000 children found that rates of antibiotic use decreased. Antibiotic use in children, aged 3 months to under 3 years, decreased 24%, from 2.46 to 1.89 antibiotic prescriptions per/patient per/year. For children, 3 years to under 6 years, there was a 25% reduction from 1.47 to 1.09 antibiotic prescriptions per/patient per/year. And for children aged 6 to under 18 years, there was a 16% reduction from 0.85 to 0.69 antibiotic prescriptions per/ patient /per year. (53) Although there was a reduction in antibiotic use, the data indicate that on average every child in America receives 1.22 antibiotic prescriptions annually.

Group A beta-hemolytic streptococci is the only common cause of sore throat that requires antibiotics, penicillin and erythromycin being the only recommended treatment. However, 90% of sore throats are viral. The authors of this study estimated there were 6.7 million adult annual visits for sore throat between 1989 and 1999 in the U.S. Antibiotics were used in 73% of visits. Furthermore, patients treated with antibiotics were given non-recommended broad-spectrum antibiotics in 68% of visits. The authors noted, that from 1989 to 1999, there was a significant increase in the newer and more expensive broad-spectrum antibiotics and a decrease in use of penicillin and erythromycin, which are the recommended antibiotics. (54) If antibiotics were given in 73% of visits and should have only been given in 10%, this represents 63%, or a total of 4.2 million visits for sore throat that ended in unnecessary antibiotic prescriptions between1989-1999. In 1995, Dr. Besser and the CDC cited 2003 cited much higher figures of 20 million unnecessary antibiotic prescriptions per year for viral infections. (2) Neither of these figures takes into account the number of unnecessary antibiotics used for non-fatal conditions such as acne, intestinal infection, skin infections, ear infections, etc.

The Problem with Antibiotics: They are Anti-Life

On September 17, 2003 the CDC relaunched a program, started in 1995, called “Get Smart: Know When Antibiotics Work”. (55) This is a $1.6 million campaign to educate patients about the overuse and inappropriate use of antibiotics. Most people involved with alternative medicine have known about the dangers of overuse of antibiotics for decades. Finally the government is focusing on the problem, yet they are only putting a miniscule amount of money into an iatrogenic epidemic that is costing billions of dollars and thousands of lives. The CDC warns that 90% of upper respiratory infections, including children’s ear infections, are viral, and antibiotics don’t treat viral infection. More than 40% of about 50 million prescriptions for antibiotics each year in physicians' offices were inappropriate. (2) And using antibiotics, when not needed, can lead to the development of deadly strains of bacteria that are resistant to drugs and cause more than 88,000 deaths due to hospital-acquired infections. (9) However, the CDC seems to be blaming patients for misusing antibiotics even though they are only available on prescription from a doctor who should know how to prescribe properly. Dr. Richard Besser, head of “Get Smart,” says "Programs that have just targeted physicians have not worked. Direct-to-consumer advertising of drugs is to blame in some cases.” Dr. Besser says the program “teaches patients and the general public that antibiotics are precious resources that must be used correctly if we want to have them around when we need them. Hopefully, as a result of this campaign, patients will feel more comfortable asking their doctors for the best care for their illnesses, rather than asking for antibiotics." (56)

And what does the “best care” constitute? The CDC does not elaborate and patently avoids the latest research on the dozens of nutraceuticals scientifically proven to treat viral infections and boost the immune system. Will their doctors recommend vitamin C, echinacea, elderberry, vitamin A, zinc, or homeopathic oscillococcinum? No, they won’t. The archaic solutions offered by the CDC include a radio ad, “Just Say No - Snort, sniffle, sneeze - No antibiotics please." Their commonsense recommendations, that most people do anyway, include resting, drinking plenty of fluids, and using a humidifier.

The pharmaceutical industry claims they are all for limiting the use of antibiotics. In order to make sure that happens, the drug company Bayer is sponsoring a program called, “Operation Clean Hands”, through an organization called LIBRA. (57) The CDC is also involved with trying to minimize antibiotic resistance, but nowhere in their publications is there any reference to the role of nutraceuticals in boosting the immune system nor to the thousands of journal articles that support this approach. This recalcitrant tunnel vision and refusal to use available non-drug alternatives is absolutely inappropriate when the CDC is desperately trying to curb the nightmare of overuse of antibiotics. The CDC should also be called to task because it is only focusing on the overuse of antibiotics. There are similar nightmares for every class of drug being prescribed today.

Drugs Pollute Our Water Supply

We have reached the point of saturation with prescription drugs. We have arrived at the point where every body of water tested contains measurable drug residues. We are inundated with drugs. The tons of antibiotics used in animal farming, which run off into the water table and surrounding bodies of water, are conferring antibiotic resistance to germs in sewage, and these germs are also found in our water supply. Flushed down our toilets are tons of drugs and drug metabolites that also find their way into our water supply. We have no idea what the long-term consequences of ingesting a mixture of drugs and drug-breakdown products will do to our health. It’s another level of iatrogenic disease that we are unable to completely measure. (58-67)

Specific Drug Iatrogenesis: NSAIDs

It’s not just America that is plagued with iatrogenesis. A survey of 1072 French general practitioners (GPs) tested their basic pharmacological knowledge and practice in prescribing NSAIDs. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) rank first among commonly prescribed drugs for serious adverse reactions. The results of the study suggested that GPs don’t have adequate knowledge of these drugs and are unable to effectively manage adverse reactions. (68)

A cross-sectional survey of 125 patients attending specialty pain clinics in South London found that possible iatrogenic factors such as “over-investigation, inappropriate information, and advice given to patients as well as misdiagnosis, over-treatment, and inappropriate prescription of medication were common.” (69)

Specific Drug Iatrogenesis: Cancer Chemotherapy

In 1989, a German biostatistician, Ulrich Abel PhD, after publishing dozens of papers on cancer chemotherapy, wrote a monograph “Chemotherapy of Advanced Epithelial Cancer”. It was later published in a shorter form in a peer-reviewed medical journal. (70) Dr. Abel presented a comprehensive analysis of clinical trials and publications representing over 3,000 articles examining the value of cytotoxic chemotherapy on advanced epithelial cancer. Epithelial cancer is the type of cancer we are most familiar with. It arises from epithelium found in the lining of body organs such as breast, prostate, lung, stomach, or bowel. From these sites cancer usually infiltrates into adjacent tissue and spreads to bone, liver, lung, or the brain. With his exhaustive review Dr. Abel concludes that there is no direct evidence that chemotherapy prolongs survival in patients with advanced carcinoma. He said that in small-cell lung cancer and perhaps ovarian cancer the therapeutic benefit is only slight. Dr. Abel goes on to say, “Many oncologists take it for granted that response to therapy prolongs survival, an opinion which is based on a fallacy and which is not supported by clinical studies.”

Over a decade after Dr. Abel’s exhaustive review of chemotherapy, there seems no decrease in its use for advanced carcinoma. For example, when conventional chemotherapy and radiation has not worked to prevent metastases in breast cancer, high-dose chemotherapy (HDC) along with stem-cell transplant (SCT) is the treatment of choice. However, in March 2000, results from the largest multi-center randomized controlled trial conducted thus far showed that, compared to a prolonged course of monthly conventional-dose chemotherapy, HDC and SCT were of no benefit. (71) There was even a slightly lower survival rate for the HDC/SCT group. And the authors noted that serious adverse effects occurred more often in the HDC group than the standard-dose group. There was one treatment-related death (within 100 days of therapy) in the HDC group, but none in the conventional chemotherapy group. The women in this trial were highly selected as having the best chance to respond.

There is also no all-encompassing follow-up study like Dr. Abel’s that tells us if there is any improvement in cancer-survival statistics since 1989. In fact, we need to research whether chemotherapy itself is responsible for secondary cancers instead of progression of the original disease. We continue to question why well-researched alternative cancer treatments aren’t used.

Drug Companies Fined

Periodically, a drug manufacturer is fined by the FDA when the abuses are too glaring and impossible to cover up. The May 2002 Washington Post reported that the maker of Claritin, Schering-Plough Corp., was to pay a $500 million dollar fine to the FDA for quality-control problems at four of its factories. (72) The FDA tabulated infractions that included 90%, or 125 of the drugs they made since 1998. Besides the fine, the company had to stop manufacturing 73 drugs or suffer another $175 million dollar fine. PR statements by the company told another story. The company assured consumers that they should still feel confident in its products.

Such a large settlement serves as a warning to the drug industry about maintaining strict manufacturing practices and has given the FDA more clout in dealing with drug company compliance. According to the Washington Post article, a federal appeals court ruled in 1999 that the FDA could seize the profits of companies that violate "good manufacturing practices." Since that time Abbott Laboratories Inc. paid $100 million for failing to meet quality standards in the production of medical test kits, and Wyeth Laboratories Inc. paid $30 million in 2000 to settle accusations of poor manufacturing practices.

The indictment against Schering-Plough came after the Public Citizen Health Research Group, lead by Dr. Sidney Wolfe, called for a criminal investigation of Schering-Plough, charging that the company distributed albuterol asthma inhalers even though it knew the units were missing the active ingredient.

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