09 April 2010

A pill for every ill?

Colchester Campus

Research by Professor Joan Busfield from the Department of Sociology shows a marked rise in expenditure on prescription drugs and in the number of prescribed medicines being dispensed in recent years.

The research published in Social Science and Medicine showed an increase in expenditure on drugs by the NHS in England of 60% over a ten year period, while the number of prescribed medicines dispensed increased from an average of 8 per person in 1989 to 16.4 in 2008 – a doubling over twenty years, with annual increases now running at around 4–5 percent.

The article, A Pill for Every Ill, calls into question the standard progressive view of this growth in terms of the development of new, improved medicines, and provides an alternative framework for understanding the expansion.

Commenting on her findings, Professor Busfield said the pharmaceutical industry played a significant role in driving the increases, but other groups were also important: ‘Whilst the pharmaceutical industry’s intensive marketing to medical professionals, its control over the science underpinning drug development and testing and its disease mongering are key aspects, doctors have not generally
constrained the industry’s commercial power but, for a variety of reasons, have largely played the role of handmaiden to the expansion.’

Joan Busfield also said the general public, policy makers and insurance companies had done little to stem the tide: ‘People seem to have increased expectations of health and the evolution of a consumerist ethos have encouraged medicine use. Nor have governments or insurance companies done much to constrain growth. I think drugs, though frequently beneficial, are being overused. The population is getting healthier and healthier, and longevity is increasing because of improved standards of living, but we are using more and more drugs, too often unnecessarily.’

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