View Full Version : Are we overmedicating?

03-28-2005, 10:55 PM
Interesting story. I wonder if many of our health problems today could be prevented by limiting the amount of toxic meds we put into our bodies. Don't get me wrong, drugs aren't all bad, but sometimes I think we overmedicate people!

"Vintage Visions: Overmedication led to misdiagnosis

By Richard Ingham

Oklahoma seniors can come out of the fog, so to speak. Editor's note
First in a two-part series.

Reviewing 2003 records of about 30,000 Medicare patients, a research team uncovered about 1,500 "adverse drug events," including 11 that resulted in death and five in permanent disabilities.

The research team estimated America's 38 million Medicare recipients annually experience more than 1.9 million such adverse events -- 180,000 of them with life-threatening characteristics.

Why does this happen to our nation's and state's seniors?

Part of the problem is just numbers: More than 40 percent of people 65 and older use five or more medicines a week; 12 percent use 10 or more.

Jerry H. Gurwitz, chief of geriatric medicine at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, says it's not a matter of bad or even sloppy doctors. "We're talking about a system that allows these things to happen just by the way it's designed."

This design is illustrated in the medical story of Nancy Burns, 67, from Noble.

These days, Burns is bright, funny and eager to be an advocate for the aging. But she had to be rescued by her family from an adverse drug reaction. The story is told by her son, Brad Burns, Nancy Burns and physician Dr. Germaine Odenheimer.

Brad Burns
"From the time I was 8 years old, I've always been the sibling who has been around mother when she had problems with her depression. So, when I went to visit her just before Christmas 2003, I thought her bizarre behavior -- strange questions, loss of memory, irrational fears -- were related to the manic depression she'd suffered for 30 years.

"But this was different than past episodes. She had always recorded her prescription drugs and the schedule for taking them. But now her handwriting was horrible, and she was not taking the drugs properly.

"My sister, Kelli Phillips, and I took her to Norman Regional Emergency Room. After weeks of tests, we received the diagnosis that our mother had suffered from multiple strokes and was in the beginning stage of Alzheimer's disease.

"This is the key point in my mother's story. My sister and I had concerns about adding another drug to the list she was already taking and told her doctors we wanted another opinion.

"This brought us to Dr. Odenheimer in Oklahoma City. Our first visit with her lasted several hours. After tests and the assistance of Dr. Jay Lensgraf, Odenheimer concluded that our mother was showing signs of overmedication. She wanted to start removing the prescribed medicines. She said we had to get her out of her fog first to see if she really had suffered strokes and Alzheimer's.

"After one week of taking her off some of her meds, she started improving. The fog was lifting. She has now improved to the point that she's driving again, and she's building her own cottage on my land where she will again live alone and independent."

Nancy Burns
"I have been under psychiatric care for manic depression since 1970. To manage this diagnosis, I have been taking Lithium since 1977, Levoxyl for some time and Celexa, Clonapin, Wellbutrin and Zyprexa -- all in the past two years.

"This regimen of drugs apparently began to falter in the summer of 2003. I began to lose my balance, my handwriting became shaky,' and my speech was garbled. I remember driving my car off the road, but I had no idea where I was going.

"Already my life was increasingly being managed by others. My son, Brad, quit his business in Norman to take care of me. I sold my house and car and moved in with my son because I couldn't live or drive by myself.

"Then I received a correct diagnosis from Dr. Odenheimer: Overmedication was causing the symptoms I experienced in 2003. The solution in my case was decreasing the number of drugs. I stopped Lithium cold turkey -- with no problems -- and have been gradually decreasing the anti-depressants.

"Now, instead of being one wrong answer away from a nursing home. I have no form of dementia. I feel as good as I did at 18! I have the pep to do what I want, instead of crocheting in a nursing home.

"I wanted to do this interview so other caregivers can learn not to accept any diagnosis for an older person until overmedication has been ruled out."

Next Week: Dr. Odenheimer's discusses Nancy Burns' situation and Brad Burns' thoughts on the system that allowed his mother to become overmedicated. "

03-29-2005, 08:01 AM
I agree Patrick,

The demand for medication comes from a lot of sides, and as a Doctor, I'm sure it's tough to deal with it. If people pay to see you, they tend to expect to leave with a little more than "Drink plenty of fluids and call me in the morning" -- that's why many Doctors will prescribe antibiotics for things like the common cold! (viruses aren't effected by antibiotics since those are to treat bacterial infections)

As a youngster, I was diagnosed early with ADHD -- in fact, I participated in some of the pilot tests that helped define the condition. There was never any doubt that I had it. From about the 3rd grade and on, I took Ritalin, Cylert, and methylphenidate (which I guess is a generic of Ritalin). I had one episode as a teenager where I punched a hole in a wall, and a doctor wanted to put me on a permenant prescription of something to control my rage and outbursts (needless to say, I never took a single one of these pills as I believed that I had no such problem, and I was right) -- Patrick, that was Dr. V at OU, just so you know :D

I'd say around age 13 or 14, I decided that I didn't want to spend my entire life on medication for ADHD, a condition that can be controlled by the individual if they just try to do so. So I discontinued my use of the pills, I did fine, I probably did better, and for once, I was really myself. If my brain works differently than everyone else's, that's fine with me. Just as long as it works.

My ADHD brain got me through college and into law school sans meds, so I guess it works okay :D

03-29-2005, 09:31 AM
I completely agree with you. Unfortunately, insurance companies and pharmacuetical companies have gotten us away from common sense treatments like counseling, and shifted us to the quick and easy, take a pill fad! Honestly, a pill can help your symptoms, but it won't cure the underlying problem. All medications do is mask the symptoms.

With ADHD, there are methods to use other than medication. Heck, in practice, I've seen motivational speaking help attention problems. ADHD children can be taught methods to increase attention span. Also, teaching ADHD children how to adjust to long lectures and school work can help......simply breaking lectures down into shorter increments helps.

I actually had some degree of ADHD myself growing up, although I never took medication for it. Throughout college and even much of medical school, I got through lectures by recording them, and later breakig the recording down into smaller segments ot listen to later. Making simple adjustments like this IMO is better than taking toxic meds.

Depression and anxiety are often caused by unresolved conflicts in the past. I've seen many people work with a counselor for countless hours, finalyl to uncover what was causing the depression to begin with. After 3 to 6 months they were completely delivered from depression. Didn't have to take a medication for the rest of their lives.

Drug companies want to sell drugs. Simple as that. Insurance companies would rather pay for 15 minute med checks once a month than 1 hour counseling session once a week!

I think you see where I'm going.

I'm not necessarily against the idea that some of these disorders are caused by chemical imbalances. But, it's a chicken and egg thing...what came first...the chemical imbalance or the psychological stressor. Most of the time the psychological stressor causes the chemical imbalance.

Giving meds is like disconnecting the warning light, but never fixing the problem. Having a patient go through counseling is fixing the underlying problem.

03-29-2005, 09:34 AM
By the way, this doesn't just apply to psychiatric meds. I think we're overmedicating in other areas as well. Everytime someone is sick, they run to the doctor asking for an antibiotic. IMO, most of the time, for minor colds and illnesses, it's better to let the illness run its course and allow your body to build immunity. This strengthens the body's immune system.

I'm not so sure I agree with handing out statins like candy. Now we think we can treat cholesterol with a pill. What ever happened to encouraging diet and exercise? A pill discourages that, basically telling the patient they can eat anything they want, and just take the pill to control the damage.

The list goes on and on.

When I'm a physician, it's obvious I'll be pretty conservative when it comes out passing out scripts.

03-29-2005, 11:08 AM

It seems like insurance companies do a lot of complaining about malpractice. However, they almost encourage Doctors (by overmedicating patients) to set themselves up for malpractice suits.

If only the insurers would charge the doctors that were higher risks -- like the ones that kill rhinoplasty patients.