Pills are needed, but can pile up into a prob­lem

Post Tribune (Sunday) - - News - Jerry Davich [email protected] Twit­[email protected]

I emp­tied all the pre­scrip­tion pills on my desk, sort­ing through them like an old-fash­ioned phar­ma­cist.

Meloxi­cam. Naproxen. Di­clofenac. Ator­vas­tatin, to name just a few that I can al­most pro­nounce.

I then emp­tied some of my daily sup­ple­ments:. Glu­cosamine chon­droitin. Mul­tivi­ta­mins. Cod liver oil. Fish oil. Night­time sleep aids. I fol­lowed that with other pills that I oc­ca­sion­ally use for my var­i­ous aches and pains. Ex­cedrin mi­graine, 250 mg. Ibupro­fen, 200 mg. Me­la­tonin, 10 mg.

My desk was now cov­ered with pills of all shapes, col­ors, sizes and strengths. I felt like an ad­dict. Maybe I am an ad­dict. A junkie for pills. Yet, I never once con­sid­ered this un­til I started sort­ing through all of them.

I was sim­ply try­ing to find the right night­time sleep aid on a cold win­ter evening. I’ve had in­som­nia prob­lems since child­hood, wak­ing up in the mid­dle of the night for a snack for as long as I can re­mem­ber. Cup­cakes, dough­nuts, cook­ies and milk. For decades. How I’m not clin­i­cally obese is be­yond me.

Also, I just read about a new study in the Jour­nal of Ex­per­i­men­tal Psy­chol­ogy stat­ing that los­ing just two hours of sleep a night makes peo­ple an­grier. Re­searchers at Iowa State Uni­ver­sity found that los­ing sleep not only re­sults in neg­a­tive feel­ings, but also chronic grumpi­ness.

This may ex­plain a lot about my at­ti­tude since I was a restless teen.

Just a cou­ple of years ago, I started tak­ing sleep aids to knock me out and shut off my ever-ac­tive mind. A nightly cock­tail of me­la­tonin, Uni­som and a bor­ing TV show is a bliss­ful feel­ing for this in­som­niac. I still wake up in the mid­dle of the night, but I usu­ally fall back asleep with­out a prob­lem. Usu­ally.

On this night, I ran out of my sleep-aid cock­tail and I scram­bled to find a sub­sti­tute. Any kind of sub­sti­tute. What the heck is Meloxi­cam? Naproxen? Di­clofenac? I had to go on­line and look up their pur­pose and dosage. An­ti­in­flam­ma­to­ries? Nope, those won’t help me.

Then I re­mem­bered I was once pre­scribed a pain pill that came with the utopian side ef­fect -- “may cause drowsi­ness.” Perfect. But where did I put it? And how old is it? I searched through my medicine cabi­net, stum­bling onto sev­eral other pre­scrip­tion medicine bot­tles for as­sorted in­juries, ill­nesses and ill-ad­vised doc­tor vis­its.

I had no idea what those pills were pre­scribed for through the years. I don’t con­sider my­self a hypochon­driac, but I owned more pills than I re­mem­ber ask­ing for or buy­ing.

I sent a late-night text to my daugh­ter, who’s a phar­ma­cist. She knows ev­ery med­i­ca­tion and sup­ple­ment on the mar­ket. She also knows their pur­pose, dosages and ef­fi­cacy. But I wanted to go to sleep as soon as pos­si­ble. I searched for each one on­line.

“Naproxen tablet: This med­i­ca­tion is known as a non-steroidal anti-in­flam­ma­tory drug (NSAID),” a web­site said. “To re­duce your risk of stom­ach bleed­ing and other side ef­fects, take this med­i­ca­tion at the low­est ef­fec­tive dose for the short­est pos­si­ble time.”

I wrote notes on a piece of pa­per. I sep­a­rated the pills into piles. I re-la­beled pre­scrip­tion bot­tles into easy-to-un­der­stand cat­e­gories: PAIN PILLS, MUS­CLE RELAXERS, SUP­PLE­MENTS, SLEEP


At some point, I paused to re­flect on what I was do­ing.

I flashed back to my youth when I strug­gled to swal­low a sin­gle pill, even if I was se­ri­ously ill. My fam­ily had to hold me down and phys­i­cally force me to take a pill. Or they would smash up a pill and hide it in my meals. I suf­fered through too many ill­nesses for too long be­cause of this stupid prob­lem.

And now here I am at

56, swal­low­ing pills of ev­ery kind like they’re candy.

I also re­flected on the cur­rent opi­oid epi­demic in our re­gion, and in our coun­try, killing more than 100 Amer­i­cans each day, ac­cord­ing to the fed­eral Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion. This deadly cri­sis not only in­volves over­doses of heroin and syn­thetic opi­oids, but also ad­dic­tion to pre­scrip­tion pain-re­liev­ers.

Re­mem­ber in the 1990s when phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pa­nies re­as­sured the med­i­cal com­mu­nity that pa­tients would not be­come ad­dicted to pre­scrip­tion opi­oid pain-re­liev­ers? And when health­care providers be­gan pre­scrib­ing them at greater rates to pa­tients in pain or per­ceived pain?

“It led to wide­spread mis­use of these med­i­ca­tions be­fore it be­came clear that these med­i­ca­tions could in­deed be highly ad­dic­tive,” the CDC states on its web­site. As many as one-third of pa­tients pre­scribed opi­oids for chronic pain are mis­us­ing those pills.

I’m not ad­dicted to pre­scrip­tion pain pills. I rarely take them. Still, I have too many bot­tles of pills in my medicine cabi­net, as I re­al­ized on that sleep­less night. A pill for this, a pill for that. Got a headache? Here’s a pill. Got mus­cle sore­ness? Here’s a pill. Got a choles­terol prob­lem? Here’s a pill to take ev­ery day for the rest of your life.

It’s dis­turb­ing. It’s re­as­sur­ing. This is the beauty of pills. This is the tragedy of pills.

We need them. We want them. And we have too many of them in our homes. Worse yet, we ca­su­ally swal­low the ad­ver­tise­ments for them with­out a sip of re­flec­tion on their in­te­gral role in our lives.

At some point, we’ll be tak­ing a daily pill to chem­i­cally re­mind our­selves to take all of our other pills. I’m kid­ding, yet I can see this as an alarm­ing re­al­ity in the near fu­ture.

Mean­while, I’m forc­ing my­self to con­sciously ask if I truly need ev­ery pill I pop into my mouth. Bad habits are bad enough. Vices can be­come ad­dic­tive. And ad­dic­tions go down as easy as ra­tio­nal­iza­tions.

This is what I re­al­ized on that sleep­less night.

This is what oth­ers should re­al­ize, too.

The true cost for all the pills we take shouldn’t be de­ter­mined strictly by dol­lars and cents, but more by the stag­ger­ing toll – phys­i­cally, emo­tion­ally and psy­cho­log­i­cally – of why we need so many of them. This cost alone should keep us up at night.

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