Prescription for Death

On New Year's Day 2006, I received an emergency call from my father's retirement community, where he had recently moved into assisted living after wandering into someone else's apartment.  He suffered from dementia, likely a result of decades of smoking and drinking.  But I loved my father, and he was my hero because he entered a treatment program in 1983 and quit drinking to be best man in my wedding.  We had another 23 years together as father and son, and I cherish that gift of time he gave me.

The nurse at the retirement community told me he had been found in his room, unconscious, with little or no pulse.  The EMT crew shocked him back to life, and I met up with him at the hospital emergency room, where he was smiling and joking.  He was admitted to cardiac ICU, and they started the usual battery of tests.

My father had no history of heart disease, and even at age 80, he was strong and healthy, except for his dementia.  His heart checked out fine.

Then I remembered a visit to his doctor a week before, where she recommended we have him take Namenda, an anti-dementia drug, along with the Aricept he had been taking for three years with some benefit.  I did an internet search and found that the side-effects of both drugs include bradycardia, a slowing of the heart rhythm.  Apparently, the Namenda had pushed him over the edge and stopped his heart.  I had to vigorously insist to the cardiologist that his medication regimen be modified to prevent a recurrence.

After adjusting his medications, my father lived another nine months, and we were able to have some quality time together in spite of the dementia.

I realized from that incident how dangerous prescription drugs are, and how everyone taking them needs an informed, assertive advocate to monitor his use and check for side-effects.  Several of my friends and relatives are on numerous prescription drugs.  Some of these medications are critical to life, while others simply address the side-effects of other drugs and have side-effects of their own.

The CDC publishes statistics on prescription drug use.  For the 2013-2014 period, 42.2% of people 65 and over take five or more drugs per day!  And 32.6% of people aged 18-44 take one to four drugs a day.  Of those, 8.8% are taking antidepressants (2011-2014).

To put this in perspective, the 2010 age 18-44 population was 112.8 million.  This means that 37 million or more people are taking one to four drugs a day, 3.3 million using antidepressants.  That 37 million amounts to over ten people per square mile, averaged over the whole U.S., but probably hundreds or thousands per block in NYC!  (I should have become a pharmacist.)

Take a look at a package insert for any prescription drug, and you will find a long list of side-effects, with everything from night sweats to "homicidal ideation."  That's a technical term meaning "you're gonna wanna kill somebody."  And if you are taking multiple drugs, these side-effects do not add up; they multiply.  My father took two drugs with bradycardia as a side-effect.  His body handled the first for three years, but the addition of the second nearly killed him in a week.

After every mass shooting in the U.S., the non-mainstream media look into the prescription drugs used by the perpetrator, where possible.  Judging from these investigations, it appears there may be a link between antidepressant use and extreme violent outbursts.  Suspicious bloggers slam the mainstream media for not investigating this link, citing billions in pharmaceutical advertising dollars the media don't want to endanger.

To chase this rabbit further, I thought I would scan all the package inserts of all prescription drugs on the market, looking for the key words "suicide" and "homicide."  Sure enough, I found that the National Institutes of Health maintain easily downloadable archives of drug labels in several categories.  I downloaded the human prescription drug label files, consisting of over 36,000 labels.

Combing through all these labels manually would be a task only the government would do, so I wrote a computer program to scan these files quickly.  The search is complicated by the fact that there are distinct labels for each form of a drug, whether caplet, capsule, liquid, etc.  After identifying all the unique drug types, 8,638 drugs remained.  The labels were scanned for the text strings "suicide" and "homicide," resulting in 1,118 drug labels having at least one match on at least one of the two strings, with some having dozens of matches.

Thus, 12.9% of the human prescription drug labels scanned had a warning about suicidal or homicidal behavior as a side effect.

This does not tell us how many of these drugs are commonly used, and an additional analysis would be required to provide that data.  But would you shop at a grocery where 12.9% of the food had been found in lab tests to send some consumers into a premeditated homicidal rage?  What would you think if 12.9% of supposedly quality products on gave you a tendency to commit suicide?

We have to protect ourselves in this world because, no matter what the government says, the government is not protecting us in the least.  What have these feds approved for your medicine cabinet?  Homicide?  Suicide?  A neighbor of mine called a friend, babbling incoherently.  Turns out she had just started on a new drug, one of the side-effects being stroke.  Have you read the fine print?

And what's in your kid's medicine cabinet?  Could he be mixing that antidepressant with alcohol, pot, or worse?

We don't need tens of millions of people taking prescription pills every day.  That's tens of millions of people, each driving a 3,000-pound vehicle, some with homicidal thoughts.

In most cases, there is an alternative to prescription drugs.  It is called healthy living.  It is called attentive parenting.  Try it.  All the side-effects are positive, including a lack of school massacres.

Change your life for the better.  Get off those pills.

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