WDDTY: Sick or elderly person could be taking 30 drugs almost every day

This headline appeared recently on WDDTY’s appalling webshite:

Sick or elderly person could be taking 30 drugs almost every day

That’s an incredible amount, yet some people could be, although I doubt many young(ish) people fall into that category. Nevertheless, what’s surprising about the WDDTY headline is that it’s partly in the rough vicinity of the truth. It’s quite common for the very elderly (i.e. geriatric) to be on a staggering number of medications per day, and it’s a known problem that not only costs the State money but could also be shortening their lives.  Let me explain briefly and simply. There are several things to take into account, including:

  • The more medicines you take, the greater the risk of an interaction between them and the less chance there is of spotting it because, well, where to start?
  • As you grow older, your body becomes less efficient at eliminating substances. What was the proper dose for a chronic ailment at 50 may be an overdose at 80.
  • Some drugs – statins spring to mind as the most obvious example – are used to prevent health problems that may arise far in the future. There’s no point in giving someone a drug to prevent a heart attack or stroke in 20 years’ time when they’re 90.

The claimed source is “Daily Telegraph, 8 July, 2015”. This may well be, but not only is the Torygraph  quite definitely not a repository of peer-reviewed literature, I can find no article with that headline on its website. The rant below was, in fact, lifted from a story entitled:

Warning of ‘a nation of pill pushers’ as figures show 55 per cent rise in prescriptions

Which isn’t exactly the same thing. Now – bearing in mind that WDDTY promotes homeopathy, vitamin supplements and other forms of snake oil aimed at the healthy, thereby perpetuating the pill-popping culture – read on.

A sick or elderly person could be taking upwards of 30 different prescription drugs, often to treat conditions that could just as easily be managed by lifestyle changes.

The original article does not mention 30 different drugs a day at all, nor does it focus specifically on the elderly, except to state that 60% of prescriptions in 2014 were for patients aged 60+. Hence my clarifications above re the known problem of overprescription for geriatric patients.  Could the reworking and gratuitous augmentation of the text possibly be to twist it to the WDDTY agenda? Rumour has it that ursine excrement has been discovered in forested regions.

In all, UK doctors wrote one billion prescriptions last year for conditions such as depression and heart problems, costing the taxpayer £9 bn.

This is deliberate misrepresentation of sources. According to the Telegraph, the correct formulation should be “1 billion prescriptions… including drugs for conditions such as depression, diabetes and heart problems…”

Prescribing has increased by 55 per cent over the past decade, with the biggest rise in prescriptions for statins, for lowering cholesterol, which have doubled, followed closely by prescriptions for antidepressants, which have risen by 98 per cent.

No, statins more than doubled, while antidepressants rose by 97%, not 98%. You can’t even copy off the back of the cereal packet properly, can you?

The trend has been highlighted in a report from the Health and Social Care Information Centre, which suggests that 20 prescriptions were issued to each person last year.

20 prescriptions on average. Incidentally that’s not 20 drugs a day, nor is it 20 pieces of paper with (possibly) several drugs on them. A prescription is one line on that piece of paper the doctor just gave you. I personally think it’s a bloody stupid definition to use, if the Telegraph got it right.

Example: I’m in my mid-50s. Say I see my doctor once every 3 months, excluding acute illness, and he gives me a quarterly prescription covering an allergy (2 items: tablets & eyedrops, or ointment), a HRT for a dodgy thyroid and … I dunno, let’s say an anxiolytic or something like that. That’s 4 lines, 4 times a year, which counts as 16 prescriptions, according to the official reckoning. If I only go twice a year for my chronic problems (it can happen), there would only be 8 prescriptions, even though the number of drugs consumed daily doesn’t change.

All I need now is to catch a cold which degenerates into bronchitis (they often do), or contract some other acute condition. Or even get an attack of shingles (increasingly likely as you age).  A dental abscess, requiring antibiotics & painkillers. A sports injury…

It doesn’t take much to get to 20, let’s face it.

As many people do not take any prescription medication,

This does not appear in the original article, certainly because it’s irrelevant. Healthy people tend not to visit the doctor and therefore won’t be included in the statistics. We are concerned only with people who do take prescription medicine. Because we’re talking about prescriptions. Practically the only medicine you give to people who aren’t sick is vaccines, you moron. Only quacks try to medicate the healthy. Of course prescription medication is for the sick. There’s no treatment for old age either. Medicine is supposed to alleviate the ills that come with old age.

the actual numbers given to the sick and elderly will be far above that average.

WTF? Do you even Truth? This is another piece of bullshit tacked onto the original report to deliberately distort the reader’s conclusions: PEOPLE WHO GO TO DOCTORS ARE PUMPED FULL OF DRUGS THEY ARE ALL GOING TO DIE BUY OUR ADVERTISERS ILLEGAL BULLSHIT INSTEAD.

Fuckwittery, and vicious fuckwittery at that. Take a statistic, add on 50%, replace “quarterly” by “daily”, and then claim, with no evidence whatsoever, that the reworked “figures” are in fact horribly understated.  Hamlet once denounced someone as having “the lie in th’teeth as far back as the lungs”. This lot have the lie in the teeth as far back as the arsehole.

In 2004, the average was 13 prescriptions per person.

And here, as with the Torygraph article, is the nub of the problem. While nobody disputes that there is overprescription of certain drugs –  especially to the very old (who may no longer need them) and to those whose psychological and/or behavioural problems would respond better to therapy – all other factors are being (deliberately?) ignored.

For example, is the increase in prescription for ED medications purely due to men wanting to show off, or are people now less inhibited about discussing the problem with their partners and doctors? What about all the new drugs that only came onto the market in the last decade, treating ailments that were previously neglected? There is a prescription drug in the process of being authorised in a number of countries for use as a prophylactic against HIV transmission between partners. We could only dream of it back in 2004.

Addendum: Many of these prescription items will also not be drugs at all. Incontinence pads and dressings are also covered, as are some gluten-free food staples for those diagnosed with coeliac disease.  Some prescriptions are for supplements, not drugs: those with osteoporosis or osteopenia will typically be prescribed calcium and Vitamin D. We’re shocked – shocked! – to see WDDTY engaging in such simplistic anti-medicine rhetoric. – Ed.

The UK is fast becoming a nation of pill pushers, says Katherine Murphy, of the Patients’ Association, who believes that prescribing is now “out of control”.

That is not the meaning of the original text, which runs:

Katherine Murphy, chief executive of the Patients Association, said the public’s increasing reliance on pills was becoming “out of control”.

My emphasis. In other words, Murphy, unlike WDDTY, is not blaming the doctors. Funnily enough, WDDTY carefully omit every single reference to the horrified reaction of the medics themselves to the problem. And I quote:

Earlier this year, the medics – who represent all 21 medical royal colleges in the UK – said too many patients were being given treatment and tests which could do more harm than good.

The senior doctors are currently drawing up a list of medical treatments which should no longer be routinely offered, in a bid to halt over-diagnosis and needless treatment.

Prof Bailey said: “Doctors and patients should all recognise that resources aren’t unlimited in the NHS and we must all work together to be good stewards of the resources we do have. “Doctors and their patients should always discuss whether a particular prescription is really necessary and reach the decision together,” she added.

So in fact this overprescribing problem is something the doctors have already told us about. Not that it stops WDDTY smearing them by omission and implication. And we finish with the standard quack assertion that what they consider to be a proper diet will cure everything:

Instead, doctors should be advocating lifestyle changes, such as an improved diet and exercise.

… which we compare and contrast with what was actually reported in the Torygraph:

She said far more needed to be done to encourage people to eat more healthily and take regular exercise.

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