Last week the Australian Health Department published its annual hit parade of Australia’s most used drugs. It revealed that just two ‘diseases’ accounted for eight of the top 10 places, high cholesterol and high blood pressure.
Because the vast majority of drugs prescribed here are heavily subsidised by the taxpayer, the Federal Government keeps a very accurate tally of what our doctors are putting in our shopping bags.
This year’s top of the (pill) pops tells us that on any given day 32 out of every 100 men, women and children in Australia will be knocking back one of the pills in the top ten.
#1 with a bullet – Anti-hypertensives.
13.4 of those 32 people will be downing a pill for their blood pressure with their morning orange juice. They’ll probably be studiously avoiding salt as well on doctor’s orders.
The only problem is that research published just this week tells us the OJ is more likely to be causing the blood pressure problems than any amount of salt they might be consuming.
This confirms a long line of studies which have concluded that the fructose half of sugar is the cause of high blood pressure and not the salt.
#2 – Statins, the drug without a disease.
Riding hard on the heels of the blood pressure pills, 12.9 of those 32 people will be taking some sort of Statin, a drug that treats exactly nothing, but which is supposed to lower the risk of future heart attacks.
Statins are powerful drugs that alter the function of important liver enzymes, and the evidence suggests that the only class of people who benefit are younger men who’ve already had a heart attack.
The only people who should be given statins should be this very small group (and then only if their doctor feels the benefit outweighs the risk of diabetes and dementia).
#3 – Paracetemol
If this list is giving you a headache then you’ll likely be joining the 3.4 out of every hundred of us who will pop a Panadol today.
#4 – Reflux medication
Rounding out our list is a medication to treat heartburn and GERD (Gastro-Esophageal Reflux Disease). Just 2.5 in every 100 of us will be getting into those pills, but recent data tells us it a class of drugs with a big future.
GERD is likely to be caused by a combination of the obesity caused by eating too much sugar and the bacterial overgrowth caused by, yep you guessed it, eating too much sugar. It won’t come as too much of a surprise then to discover the percentage of the population suffering from GERD has significantly increased in the last two decades.
More than 1 in 10 Australians now suffer from the disease and almost 7 million scripts a year are written for the one drug (for GERD that makes the Top 10) alone. It is the fourth most expensive medicine funded by the Australian taxpayer (who shells out more than $200 million a year for it).
Taken together, the Top 10 list accounts for a serious chunk of Australia’s pharmaceutical budget. It’s a budget that is under constant pressure. And there are many unfunded drugs that don’t make the cut, not because they don’t work, but because too few people will benefit.
Instead we’re spending our precious drug dollars on massively overprescribed statins and drugs to treat diseases of sugar consumption (oh and headache pills). Wouldn’t it be better if we just stopped eating the sugar and listening to drug company marketing around statins?