Presently, a patient diagnosed with athlete’s foot would be prescribed an antibiotic and the symptoms and pain from such a condition would be minimized, almost nonexistent. However, one hundred years ago, athlete’s foot would have killed a patient.
Dr. Joseph M. Gabriel, a historian of medicine and biomedical sciences and also a researcher at Florida State University, came to NJIT to speak to students about the development of the pharmaceutical industry, its dramatic impact on medicine throughout the ages, and how it has, and will continue, to impact the future of medicine.
Over the course of one century, the average life expectancy of a human living in the United States went from 47 years to 76 years. This increase was a result of public health initiatives, the invention of ambulances, and most significantly, advanced development of medicine and drugs.
In fact, in the early 1900s, it was found that the leading causes of death were more acute, short term ailments such as Tuberculosis, Influenza, and diarrhea. In contrast, leading causes of death became more chronic in the 2000s; these causes including cancer, chronic respiratory illnesses, and stroke.
The success of drugs in the pharmaceutical industry has allowed mankind to cure more short-term causes of death. Innovations such as the Polio vaccine, anti-Diphtheritic serum, and penicillin are especially notable drugs that commonly prevent or cure, even in the present era, many short-term afflictions such as bacterial infections.
As a result, there is an increased reliance on drugs to cure health ailments. However, many current medical conditions can be improved and treated with behavioral intervention instead of drugs.
According to Dr. Gabriel, 40% of premature deaths are the result of bad health behaviors—whether it be a lack of exercise, a poor diet, or sleep deficit.
“Take a fifty year-old man who complains of headache, dizziness and a sore throat,” says Dr. Gabriel, “he’s on drugs for diabetes, hypertension, back pain relief, and high cholesterol—the side effects of the drugs he takes are the causes the current symptoms he experiences.”
This results in an over-reliance on pharmaceuticals when a focus on behavioral intervention can actually improve many of the conditions of patients who suffer from certain long-term illnesses.
“Some doctors have to rely on drugs to reduce patient symptoms because you can only recommend patients to change their diet or to incorporate exercise into their daily routines, but that doesn’t mean they will actually follow your advice,” said Dr. Gabriel.
While behavioral intervention techniques should be more focused upon by physicians to cure chronic ailments, certain medications will still require drugs, and overall, the pharmaceutical industry will play a fundamental part in the future medicine.
When prescribing drugs to patients, physicians must be aware of illegal and unethical activity that occurs in the pharmaceutical industry. Sometimes, certain companies paid kickbacks in which doctors received additional money to prescribe their drugs to patients when they may not be the best drugs to resolve a patient’s medical conditions. There also are situations in which companies over-exaggerate the benefits of using certain drugs so doctors will prescribe them to patients. Marketing is costly, and this may result in the dishonesty of certain pharmaceutical companies and drug providers.
In the last ten years, cases involving illegal marketing by big-name pharmaceutical companies have been on the rise. In 2011, Merck paid $950 million after getting involved in a lawsuit where conducted studies found that their painkiller Vioxx actually increases chances of heart attack, stroke, and death. Merck failed to recognize and mention these side effects in their advertisement, and this resulted in their lawsuit.
Two years later in 2013, Johnson and Johnson was charged $2.2 billion in a lawsuit for providing doctors kickbacks for prescribing their drug Risperdal, along with the failure to provide the public with all of the health risks of using the drug. Young boys could develop breasts due to the presence of the hormone prolactin in the drug, and it increased the risk of strokes in older patients.
With these lawsuits occurring in the pharmaceutical industry, physicians must take caution when prescribing drugs to patients. This is only one of the numerous challenges doctors face. Dr. Gabriel advised future medical students and doctors to educate and surround themselves with positive people and role models, and most importantly to be patient. Working in a medical field will involve interacting with different kinds of people.
“Overall, anyone interested in working in a field involving the pharmaceutical industry should stay educated and aware, but most importantly make choices which will best preserve and enhance the well-being of people in society,” concluded Dr. Gabriel.