No one wants to suffer any longer than they have to, whether it’s from a nasty flu or a twinging muscle in your back. You might put off a doctor’s visit for a few days, chug some orange juice or swallow some ibuprofen, but there’s a certain point where that doesn’t cut it anymore. You can’t handle the discomfort any longer, and it’s seriously disrupting your life. So you go to the doctor and get a prescription to start feeling better.
This is what we’ve been doing for years, but it can’t continue like this. While you might just want some relief, going to the doctor when it’s not necessary is not only costing you money but also posing a serious public health risk. Antibiotic-resistant superbugs are becoming more and more prevalent, and we have no answer for how to fight them. Likewise, prescription drug abuse is a deep hole to fall into, almost impossible to climb out of, when it’s so much easier to avoid the drugs altogether.
No one is suggesting that you go without drugs altogether. Of course, there are times when you need medication, but it shouldn’t be all the time. But how can you tell the difference?
When You're Sick...
Having a cold is not a pleasant experience. Of course you want it over with quickly, but drugs might not even be effective at clearing it up in the first place. It’s a common misconception that antibiotics fight all diseases. In fact, they only fight against bacterial infections, including things like strep throat. Viral infections, like the common cold or flu, are not helped by antibiotics.
Furthermore, taking antibiotics for a viral infection is worse than just being ineffective - because any bacterial infections lingering in your body are exposed to the antibiotics as well. Some of them evolve and become resistant to the antibiotic so that when you pass it on or get sick with it yourself, there’s no good way to treat it.
Your first step when you or your child is sick is to understand what the underlying illness is. Before you even think about getting antibiotics educate yourself on whether or not antibiotics can even help treat what you have. Sometimes you can safely assume that a cough is just a cough; other times it’s best left to a doctor’s judgment. As much as you are an expert with your own body, do not pressure your doctor for a prescription if he or she denies you. There is probably a very good reason that they are doing so.
When You're in Pain...
Saying no to medication while you’re sick is one thing, but weighing the pros and cons of medication while in pain is another thing. Illnesses can cause intense suffering, but pain can be blinding. You just want it to end, whether for yourself or for a loved one and sometimes that can cloud your judgment. While taking pain medication once is not a problem, it can become an issue when you’re trying to manage chronic pain. Over 100 million Americans have chronic or persistent pain, and the decision to take medication ought to be seriously considered by every one of them.
The problem with some pain medication, like opioids, is that they are addictive. The opioid crisis is rapidly growing out of control, and while some of these drugs are illegal, a lot of the substances being abused are pharmaceuticals. They are drugs that are prescribed to relieve pain after an operation or from chronic illnesses.
Always follow your doctor’s recommendations concerning pain medication. Chances are that if your doctor prescribed you medication, he or she legitimately believes that you need it. At the same time, be aware of how it is affecting you, and monitor your pain levels in relation to your dosage. When you can handle it, start weaning yourself off the drugs. You might be uncomfortable, but opioids should never be used carelessly. If at all possible, limit your usage to only a few days; the longer you use the drugs, the more likely you are to become addicted.
Do Not Share Pills!
Part of the problem is that people rarely take the entire amount of pills prescribed to them. While this is a good thing for pain medication, these leftover pills are often abused. They are not always stolen or sold, either. Antibiotics are often shared between friends or families as an act of kindness, as are pain medications, but this behavior only increases the problems associated with both of these pills. There is a special procedure for disposing of medications; follow it to avoid the temptation.
This can become more complicated if you have to manage medication for a loved one. Children cannot be entrusted with that responsibility, for example. Seniors with memory problems cannot always remember when to take their pills. That’s why medication management needs to be taken seriously; if you have taken on that responsibility, be sure to consult your loved one’s primary physician.
Ultimately, we have to consider more than just the short-term relief when dealing with antibiotics or pain medication. These prescription medications pose very real long-term dangers that we need to be aware of when making decisions about our personal or familial health. Do not abuse these medications or pressure your doctor for them if you do not need them. Taking these pills unnecessarily only compounds the problem in the future, and we do not have a cure for either of these growing societal infections.