Do we really need more drugs? We can gain some insight into this question by posing a qualifying question: “How’s it working out so far?” The answer is rather obvious: “Not all that well.” Despite spending $2.5 trillion in 2009 on health care, representing almost 18% of our gross domestic product, the life expectancy of Americans ranks #36 worldwide. Numerous developing nations enjoy longer lifespans than we do. (Costa Rica, for example, ranks #30.) On the other end of the spectrum, the New York Times recently reported that the U.S. rate of premature births is comparable to that of developing nations. Regarding this impactful public health issue with long-term consequences for society, the U.S. does worse than any Western European country. The U.S. premature birth rate of 12% is comparable with that in Kenya, and Honduras. In other words, on this measure the overweening technological superiority of our notoriously costly health care system fares no better than that of countries with per capita incomes of $2 a day.
With respect to chronic disease, it is not unreasonable to assert that medical treatment has obtained equivocal results in the population. Statins are a drug class that has demonstrated proven benefit. For persons who have risk factors for atherosclerotic coronary artery disease, statin use effectively reduces the risk of death due to cardiovascular disease, including stroke. Benefits of statin use increases over time. But drug companies want to extend the statin hegemony to include persons at low cardiovascular risk. In other words, global pharmaceutical corporations want physicians to prescribe statins for prevention in otherwise healthy persons.The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers graduate online masters in bioethics programs. For more information on the AMBI master of bioethics online program, please visit the AMBI site.