I am studying to be a registered nurse, so I know how valuable and life-saving some prescription drugs can be. And like all of us either facing or experiencing menopause, I worry about the threat of osteoporosis, or a thinning of bone mass due to calcium loss. I see the TV ads and hear my friends talk about the drugs they're taking to prevent or slow down osteoporosis.
However, when it comes to drugs, I consider myself a skeptical consumer who researches all angles of a disease and a drug before accepting a physician's recommendation, which may explain why, at 58, I take only one prescription med. So when I heard a piece of excellent reporting on National Public Radio (NPR) about how the big drug companies pushed the idea of osteopenia--their version of pre-osteoporosis--on an unsuspecting and vulnerable population of women worried about breaking a hip in their old age and dying from it, I got hopping mad. The whole article can be found by clicking this link: www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=121609815 but here's the jist of it:
Osteoporosis is a disease that affects women as they age, especially as they go through menopause. It causes our bones to loose calcium, and makes them look like Swiss cheese. They can break more easily than when we were younger, and for some older women, a fall followed by a broken hip is the beginning of the end.
It seems a drug company wasn't content to sell drugs that MAY stave off osteoporosis to a few women, they wanted a much larger market--and conspired to scare a huge number of us into thinking we are on the edge of getting osteoporosis. They pretty much invented a new disease-osteopenia-which they designated as a precursor to osteoporosis. Osteopenia is a SLIGHT thinning of the bones and, according to the NPR report, "doesn't result in disabling bone breaks." But when a woman and her physician get a diagnosis of osteopenia, it sounds bad. They are more likely to reach for a drug, which, of course, makes the drug companies very happy and very profitable. The NPR story says one drug company invested in firms that made portable bone measurement scanners so that women would be more likely to get a bone scan right in their doctor's offices, making the diagnosis quick. The machines were controversial. Some doctors said their scans were worthless. But the drug company made every financial effort to make sure that doctors had them, so that a diagnosis of osteopenia was more likely, and therefore a prescription for their drug would be more likely too.
The strategy worked for the drug company, and today millions of women take these drugs and many don't need to, according to some doctors. We've been duped into thinking we NEED it but most of us may not. There are side effects to these drugs (called bisphosphonates) and there are more natural ways to strengthen your bones and prevent crippling bone breaks. Check out the site www.OsteoporosisConnection.com, a sister site to this one for ideas.
Let's not let the drug companies decide FOR us what tests we need and what drugs we need. Let's do our homework, starting with that NPR report. It'll rattle your bones.
Published On: January 02, 2010