Does Drug Usage Increase/Decrease Life Expectancy?

Most people would agree that advances in the pharmaceutical industry have dramatically increased the average life span of industrialized countries. At the same time, addiction to both prescription medications and illicit substances has cut life short for many individuals. Some would say that most harsh chemical solutions should be bypassed whenever possible for a gentler, natural solution.

Can New Drugs Increase the Average Life Expectancy?

Because pharmaceuticals are big business, the claims that promise miraculous results with each new product must be taken with a grain of salt. The Manhattan Institute recently released a study that indicated fast approval of new drugs would increase life expectancy, raise productivity, and lower non-drug health care costs. Some experts argued that this study should be used to convince public health care programs such as Medicaid and Medicare to quickly approve newer drugs for their formularies. Critics analyzed the study and found major flaws in their methodology. While expensive, new drugs can provide miraculous results for some people, many older, cheaper medications have proven just as effective.

In the case of chronic diseases like heart disease and AIDS, drug usage can make a dramatic difference to the individual’s lifespan. By reducing cholesterol levels, statins can prevent heart disease or slow its progress. While AIDS was once a death sentence for its victims, new anti-retroviral medications can extend the life of a patient by about 24 years if the patient has consistent access to the expensive new drugs. Chemotherapy has been adding years to the life of many cancer patients if not curing them completely.

Some Prescription Medicines Can Have Unexpected Side Effects

While strong medications can cure severe illnesses and improve the quality of life for many patients, the side effects can be more than just uncomfortable. In some cases, they can cause life-threatening conditions of their own. Vioxx and other anti-inflammatory medications illustrate this point. Although they had been extensively tested and had been approved by the Federal Drug Administration (FDA), they were found to cause severe cardio-vascular problems that could lead to life-threatening conditions. Previous to that crisis, similar issues were found involving hormone-replacement therapies and prescription diet medications that had been considered safe solutions to many people’s health problems. The latest problem drug could be a popular, new anti-smoking medication. While it is commonly accepted that smoking cessation will increase the life span of most people, this new drug has been found to cause suicidal thoughts and/or behavior in some patients.

Illicit Drug Use Can Dramatically Reduce an Individual’s Lifespan

In a 2000 study conducted by the Drug Abuse Research Center at the University of California, it was found that young men who became addicted to narcotics could be expected to live to an average age of 46 compared to the average life expectancy of 61 for the general male population. Although illicit drug use can wreak havoc on the human body causing liver damage and other chronic health problems, drug-seeking activity greatly contributes to these early deaths. While drug addicts come from all socio-economic backgrounds, there is a higher incidence of risky behavior and criminal activity in drug addicts who do not have the financial resources to support their habit. Many people who live this type of lifestyle experience early deaths.

Natural Solutions: Where Do They Fit In?

Many patients who have become disillusioned with Western medicine are turning to natural medicine and healthier lifestyles to manage their medical problems. Some use these methods as auxiliary methods, while others have made a complete switch. In many cases, people have found that proper diet and exercise will lead to weight loss and other physical changes that allow their physicians to reduce or eliminate many of their prescription medications. While genetic predispositions may not make this a possibility for everyone, virtually all doctors will recommend that their patients follow a healthy diet, get adequate exercise, restrict their alcohol use, and stop smoking to improve their overall health.

References

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2669876/

http://apha.confex.com/apha/128am/techprogram/paper_14780.htm

http://www.unc.edu/~pnc/pop/Schackman.pdf

http://www.fda.gov/drugs/drugsafety/postmarketdrugsafetyinformationforpatientsandproviders/ucm103420.htm