Rx for a Drug Society

LET'S connect the dots. In recent weeks, the Clinton administration has:

*Asked Congress to provide additional coverage for those on Medicare to make drugs more affordable in order to make them more available.

*Asked for stiffer rules on the granting of patents for gene research so that companies won't have broad monopolies on the thousands of gene-related drugs expected on the market in the years ahead.

*Launched an initiative to curb the overprescription of Ritalin and other behavioral drugs widely used to calm overactive young children.

*Cracked down on the sudden surge of illegal purchases of prescription drugs via the Web.

These and many similar steps paint a picture of a nation awash with drugs and a government trying to spread their use while protecting against their abuse.

The rapid introduction of many "blockbuster" drugs has fed into rising expectations among Americans for improved health and longer lives.

This year, the number of prescriptions for drugs is expected to increase by 9 percent, reaching 3 billion in a nation of 274 million people.

But even as prescription drug use goes up, so too does demand for alternative ways to maintain health.

One increasingly popular choice is organic food, which has resulted in the government trying to define what can be labeled as organic. The new regulations were based more on consumer demand for accurate labels than on scientific evidence about the health effects of organic food.

While new material cures for health problems often bring a measure of physical relief and improved lifestyles, it's worth asking if the rising dependency on drugs is a healthy trend for individuals and society. The cost of new drugs alone threatens the stability of the healthcare system.

Many doctors now advise patients to seek ways other than drugs to cure or cope with an ailment. Some acknowledge the power of prayer to relieve ills. Instead of using Ritalin, many experts simply suggest parents spend more loving time with kids.

Such alternatives deserve more serious attention by health professionals to avoid a society of pill-poppers.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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