Are drugs essential to our health?

The debate continues as to whether drugs are overprescribed. Perhaps the better question to ask is whether we believe drugs themselves are essential to our health. Photo: © iStockphoto.com/GMVozd

LOS ALTOS, CA, September 21, 2012 – In a recent Wall Street Journal debate, Dr. Sanford Newmark, head of the pediatric integrative neurodevelopmental program at the Osher Center for Integrative Medicine and author of ADHD Without Drugs - A Guide to the Natural Care of Children with ADHD, and Dr. Harold Koplewicz, president of the Child Mind Institute, offered up widely different answers to the question, Are ADHD Medications Overprescribed?

Briefly…

Dr. Newmark: “ADHD is significantly overdiagnosed. And for those who do have the condition, medications aren’t always the best or only option. But overdiagnosis isn’t the only reason too many kids are taking ADHD medication. Even among children in whom ADHD is correctly diagnosed, medication is overprescribed. There are other ways to help these children.”

Dr. Koplewicz: “ADHD is real, it is widespread, and the stimulants commonly prescribed for it are the most effective treatment, have few side effects and are nonaddictive. Overuse of these medications isn’t rampant. The fact is the unfounded mistrust of ADHD medications is more dangerous than the drugs.”

Although this conversation focused on the use of drugs to treat ADHD, the same question could have been posed in relation to just about any disease.

However, if we really want to get to the heart of the matter, perhaps the better question we should be asking is whether we believe drugs themselves are essential to our health.

Let me clarify by saying that I am by no means suggesting that in today’s world giving up drugs altogether is a realistic option. There are no doubt millions of people who will testify to the benefits they provide. But have we put so much faith in them that we’ve stopped questioning if a chemical is capable of supplying what may be most needed to live a healthy life?

Of course, any discussion as to a possible alternative to drugs needs to begin with an honest consideration of where we stand in terms of our individual and collective ability – and desire – to get along without them.

During one such discussion I had recently with Dr. Newmark at his office in San Francisco, we spoke in some detail about the “other [non drug-based] ways” he referenced in his Wall Street Journal article, the most interesting being the degree to which the thought of the doctor, the patient, and – in his particular line of work – the parent play a role in gaining and maintaining health.

“The worst thing going on in western medicine today is the loss of the value of the placebo,” he said, referring to the impact the positive expectations of both patient and physician can have on the recovery process.

“Every word one says to a patient influences their healing potential.”

The flip side, of course, is the nocebo effect or “medical hexing,” to use a phrase coined by integrative medicine guru, Dr. Andrew Weil. Generally used to describe inert pills given to patients who are told to expect – and often experience – an adverse reaction, the term can also be applied to health care providers who inadvertently make matters worse by, for instance, telling patients that their chances of recovery look grim.

At least within the medical community, coming up with a satisfactory description of this link between our thought and body has so far proven elusive. Perhaps that’s why its application to health care remains somewhat on the fringe. Still, it’s worth asking whether a better understanding of this connection will eventually lead to a significant reduction – even elimination – of the use of drugs.

I assume that this is something both Drs. Newmark and Koplewicz would agree would be a very good thing.

Eric Nelson is a Christian Science practitioner, whose articles on the link between consciousness and health appear regularly in a number of local, regional, and national online publications. He also serves as the media and legislative spokesperson for Christian Science in Northern California.


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Eric Nelson

Eric Nelson has been published and featured in numerous newspapers, online publications, and radio talk programs. He speaks from years of experience in the mind-body field, especially as it relates to health. In addition, he is the media and legislative spokesperson for Christian Science in Northern California and is a self-employed Christian Science practitioner. He’s also a huge baseball fan and loves riding his bike in the nearby Santa Cruz Mountains. You can find him at www.norcalcs.org.

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