Gwen Olsen | The unholy marriage to American health care
It appears people have married the health-care system in this country. Americans are either unconvinced or unwilling to acknowledge that our health-care system is corrupt, under-serving, unmanageable and outright dangerous.
(By way of example, we are reducing our cholesterol with statin drugs and bombarding our immune systems with live viruses, debris and other neurotoxins annually to prevent influenza.) In other words, the majority of us have taken some sort of sacred oath to continue to adhere to the ludicrous practices we currently call health care (such as reducing our cholesterol with statin drugs and bombarding our immune systems with live viruses, debris and other neurotoxins annually to prevent influenza) “for better or for worseuntil death do us part.” As a consequence, a large number of us are fulfilling those vows. A very large number of us are dying at the hands of our own health-care system!
When I left the pharmaceutical industry in 2000 to enter the natural foods industry, I never dreamed that many of the health symptoms I suffered from were directly related to my access to and use of the health-care system I had worked in for fifteen years. Since then, I have discovered nearly all of my major health challenges and related problems over the years were the result of my own ignorance, false programming and indoctrination by a “sick care” health model. Mainly, however, it was my own indiscriminate and unnecessary use of prescription drugs—my “quick fix, pop-a-pill” mentality—that had almost killed me on more than one occasion.
The United States recently ranked a disgustingly low 19th in preventable deaths among industrialized nations. However, our health-care spending is 16 percent of our gross domestic product, causing grave concern for third-party payers and government-backed health programs such as Medicare and Medicaid. Tax payers spent over $2.1 trillion on health care in 2006 with a large portion of that attributable to Medicare drug benefits. Baby boomers are aging rapidly, and price increases for health-care services and drugs far outpace cost of living wage increases, so many Americans are already feeling the financial crunch associated with costly health care. Not to mention, there are a projected 45 million Americans who are completely without health-insurance coverage.
New information surfaces daily where drug manufacturers have covered up damning evidence about their blockbuster drugs; having waited years (sometimes decades) before disclosing information in the discovery process of lawsuits about side effects that were evident early on in their initial clinical trials. Yet, we continue to allow new drugs to be advertised in direct-to-consumer ads on T.V. and in every other form of media, while only one other country on the planet permits direct advertising influence on consumers by drug companies—New Zealand.
There’s a very good reason for that: direct-to-consumer ads drive branded product market share because patients ask for specific drugs by name. However, drugs are not benign products such as Band Aids or Kleenex. All drugs are toxins and have the potential to harm, maim and/or kill peopleeven drugs considered benign such as aspirin and Tylenol can be deadly. Doctors should be the sole recipients of any advertising provided by drug manufacturers, and even their exposure should be limited to true, fair, and balanced medical information about the products rather than the Madison Avenue marketing spin.
So, where is our voicethe voice of we the people, that is? Why are we tolerating this deception and corruption while the body counts climb higher and higher and the corporations get richer and richer? Why aren’t we screaming atto the tops of our lungs? Have we all lost our minds and simply refuse to accept responsibility for something we have created that is not working—an archaic institution whose conflicts of interest have become detrimental to our wellbeing as individuals and to our society as a whole?
I say let’s admit our failure and move on. Let’s sever the ties with the old and find a better fit for the future. We need a system geared toward prevention and wellness rather than symptoms management and disease maintenance. We need a system based on accountability and sound judgment that nurtures competition. We need regulators who are not financially influenced by the industries they are tasked to regulate. And the American people need to take their calcium and grow a backbone and push back against these atrocities with their legislators!
The pharmaceutical industry has roughly 1,100 lobbyists to represent their interests in Washington. Do you know how many congressmen and senators we, the people, have representing us? Less than half that number, that’s how many. Do you know who your representatives are and with whom to voice your opinion and make it count? If not, whose voice do you think is resounding in the corridors and ears of your legislatorsthe people’s voice or Pharma’s paid mouthpieces?
When divorce in the U.S. is said to be about 50 percent of couples, I find it hard to believe that we are so doggedly committed to our values and belief systems that we would stay in a relationship that is abusive and even deadly out of convenience. But we do it every day in this country by refusing to take part in healthcare and political reform, and by standing idly by idly while our loved ones and the world we once knew disintegrates while in the hands of an incompetent and corrupt few. We are the masses. The numbers are on our side.
An infamous mass murderer in history knew the paralyzing effect large numbers of dead and dying people have on the masses. Joseph Stalin was quoted as having said, “One death is a tragedy. A thousand deaths is a statistic.” My fear is that Americans have become numb to the large scale tragedy that is depicted in the numbers of dead and dying we now refer to as health-care statistics.
Gwen Olsen spent more than a decade as a sales rep in the pharmaceutical industry, working for health-care giants such as Johnson Johnson, Bristol-Myers Squibb and Abbott Laboratories. A well-known media resource, she has been in numerous print, radio, and television media reports, and testified before Congress and the FDA. A 2007 Human Rights Award winner, she currently devotes her time to writing, national speaking engagements, and mental-health activism and is the author of the new book, Confessions of an Rx Drug Pusher.