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Suicidal thoughts! Stroke! Shortness of breath! Heart attack! Anal leakage!

If you’ve seen any of the prescription drug advertising that’s been in circulation, you’re familiar with these laundry lists of side effects. Usually they are articulated in hushed, rapid-fire fashion in television ads and in full pages of microscopic print in magazine ads. These ads are ubiquitous now, but that wasn’t always the case.

Up until 1985, what is called direct-to-consumer advertising of prescription medication was not legal. Even then, drug companies didn’t jump right on the advertising bandwagon since the FDA had kept in place a rule about disclosing detailed lists of possible side effects. However, when the FDA eased up on this in 1997, it turned into drugapalooza. It’s now a multibillion-dollar portion of a pharmaceutical company’s annual budget.

Supposedly these ads are intended to inform us so we can then make better choices with the assistance of our doctors. However, I’ve seen ads that tell you to “ask your doctor about [drug name],” but then give absolutely no indication of what the drug is supposed to treat. Not very informative.

This constant barrage of drug advertising has only fueled our more recent pop-a-pill mentality. Can’t sleep? Pop a pill. Nervous? Pop a pill. This is not to say that these issues, as well as many others, aren’t often serious and warrant a prescription. They certainly can. Heck, after my cancer diagnosis, my life literally depends on multiple prescription medications that I take five times a day. If I had any choice in the matter, I’d be pill-free, but I kind of like being alive. However, I’m sure there are those out there who do have more of a choice but are still taking lots of medication.

Someone who immediately comes to mind is actor Heath Ledger. He died in 2008 at the age of 29 from an accidental drug overdose. The postmortem toxicology report revealed that there were six different legal prescription drugs in his system, a few of them benzodiazepines (tranquilizers). This was a young, outwardly healthy looking guy. Why in the world was he taking so much medication? Unfortunately, he’s just one of many celebrity deaths that have been caused by the overuse of completely legal prescription medication. It makes me wonder how many countless regular schmoes out there have met the same end.

It also makes me wonder: Can the cure sometimes be worse than the disease?

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