According to a recent article in the Journal of the American Medical Association, 60 percent of Americans take at least one prescription drug and 5 percent take at least 5 medications. Although these prescriptions can be life saving and are truly impactful for millions of Americans, the reality also includes the fact that adverse drug reactions have been estimated to be as high as the 4th leading cause of death, more than deaths from pulmonary disease, diabetes, AIDS, pneumonia, accidents and automobile deaths (Institute of Medicine, 2000). In fact, we are now in the midst of a national opiod narcotic pain medication crisis where pain relievers prescribed by doctors are responsible for more deaths than heroin and cocaine combined causing the CDC to call it an epidemic.
In addition to these dark realities of medications, we can also consider the additional fact that we constitute approximately 5 percent of the world's population yet consume 34 percent of the world market for pharmaceuticals and pay more per capita for our medications than any other nation, approximately 40 percent more than our Great White neighbor to the north (Canada). So the financial and health costs of medication are high, I believe high enough for us to consider other options that may be less harmful with minimal side effects. These include medicinal foods and specialized diets. So the use of food as medicine is not only an interesting concept, it could potentially save billions in health care costs and adverse events for millions of people. Looking at other alternative approaches such as acupuncture for pain which has been well established in clinical research is another opportunity that can help us with the pain medication crisis. In fact, the Veterans Affairs health system has already incorporated integrative medicine into its integrative pain centers which include acupuncture, mind body therapies and other evidence based approaches to wean our veterans off these harmful medications and regain some sense of balance and health in their troubled lives. I will continue to explore this opportunity to consider food, lifestyle therapies, evidence based supplements and complementary approaches as a means to mitigate unnecessary suffering and costs in our health care system.