The United States makes up just a measly 5 percent of the world's population, but it accounts for a whopping 42 percent of the world's spending on prescription drugs -- more than $250 billion just last year. In 2002, Americans filled 3,340,000,000 outpatient prescriptions. That's 12 prescriptions for every man, woman, and child in America and there doesn't appear to be any slowdown in sight, according to Pharmacy Times, reporting that "for the past 3 years, prescription volume has grown by 25% in the United States."
Dr. Jay S. Cohen, M.D. in commenting on this phenomenon said, "Drugs have direct, powerful effects on human systems. Some of these effects are negative, and taking multiple drugs -- as 25% of Americans do -- increases the risks exponentially. Psychologically, the growing attitude that drugs are the answer for every ache and angst is destructive for individuals and societies."
Practically speaking there is the impact on rising healthcare costs which affect us all. Dr. Cohen points out that "for many healthcare systems, prescription drugs cost more than all doctor visits or hospitalizations combined." Certainly there are many essential medications that contribute to the health and recovery of millions but they are also "the #4 leading cause of death, cause more than 1 million hospitalizations annually, and are a major cause of disability and drug dependency." (Lazarou, Pomeranz, Corey, JAMA, 1998 Apr 15, 279(15):1200-5.)
Furthermore, the top selling prescription drugs in this country are NOT related to the treatment of serious and life threatening illness but rather health conditions more commonly related to lifestyle and poor nutrition. According to one physician, "Many doctors treating high cholesterol and high blood pressure turn to drugs without ever discussing diet and exercise, although many of these disorders are nutritional, not medical. Many patients prefer a pill to changing harmful habits. With drug advertising everywhere, what is the message being drummed into us and our children: that for every symptom and sensation the solution is a pill?"
What is more disturbing is the fact that many of these new prescription medications are developed to "treat" an increasingly ambiguous and generalized set of "symptoms" that are common to everyday life in which we all grow old and ultimately die. According to an ABC News report, marketing firms are hired by pharmaceutical companies to come up with catchy names for their newly created "syndromes." At Brand Institute, Inc., a Miami marketing firm, naming, or re-naming, syndromes for drug companies is 20 percent of their business. New York University clinical psychologist Leonore Tiefer calls this "disease mongering" just to sell drugs.
Brand Institute president, Jim Dettore defends the manufacture of these "syndromes" by saying that companies like his are simply responding to the needs of consumers. "Baby boomers are saying, 'I wanna live. I don't wanna sneeze. I don't wanna cough. I don't wanna run around with a runny nose. I want -- I wanna be perfect,'" said Dettore.
This is one more example of how consumerism affects our lives and ultimately produces barriers to the reception of the Gospel. In a consumerist culture the emphasis ultimately descends to "quick and easy" therapeutic solutions to everything that hinders us from experiencing personal peace.
In his monumental book, The Culture of Narcissism, Christopher Lasch points out that:
Plagued by anxiety, depression, vague discontents, a sense of inner emptiness, the "psychological man" of the 20th century seeks neither individual aggrandizement nor spiritual transcendence but peace of mind… Therapists, not priests or popular preachers of self-help or models of success like the captains of industry become his principal allies in the struggle for composure; he turns to them in hopes of achieving the modern equivalent of salvation, "mental health."
With the modern emphasis on "psychological man" instead of the spiritual man we are always only treating surface symptoms, symptoms that often serve to reveal our inner emptiness, our sense that something larger is wrong with the world. With the modern emphasis on therapy the world only mitigates [temporarily] against the effects of the Fall. The narcissistic culture through therapy and consumerism works desperately to distance death and suffering and to mollify those inner longings and emptiness that only reconciliation to God can satisfy. The modern obsession is to remove or conceal all of those unpleasant things that remind us that life is fleeting and full of trouble.
In contrast, the church and her people have served as a sometimes unwelcome reminder of these facts in its effort to point people toward their only hope: Jesus Christ. Historically, it was the institution of the church that served as an unremitting reminder of the reality of life within a fallen world. By marking life's most significant milestones: birth, marriage, and death; the church called aloud that life is both wonderful and precious but not as it was intended in the beginning when "everything was good." A child's entry into the world was marked by christening or dedication, maturation into adulthood and the progression of life was initiated through the covenantal ceremony of marriage and the transition of life unto death was signified by the funeral and interment of the dead into the ground around the church.
This task remains and the Church must maintain its place in reminding the world that even though death and suffering comes to us all there is hope to be found only in Jesus. Unfortunately in our desire to accommodate ourselves to the world we have replaced our graveyards with Starbucks and in so doing we, like the world, allay the grim reality that has served to give men pause, to reflect upon their condition and acknowledge their deep and desperate need for God.
Copyright S. Michael Craven 2006
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S. Michael Craven is the Founding Director of the Center for Christ & Culture, a ministry of the National Coalition for the Protection of Children & Families. The Center for Christ & Culture is dedicated to renewal within the Church and works to equip Christians with an intelligent and thoroughly Christian approach to matters of culture in order to recapture and demonstrate the relevance of Christianity to all of life. For more information on the Center for Christ & Culture, additional resources and other works by S. Michael Craven visit: www.battlefortruth.org
Michael lives in the Dallas area with his wife Carol and their three children.