Drugs the Cause of Most Deaths
One of Ellen White's favorite topics, besides the gospel, was healthful living. Here is what she had to say in August 1864 about what she considered one of the most common causes of death:
It might seem to the modern reader that Ellen White was denouncing the use of antibiotics, but they weren't discovered yet in 1864 when the above was published. Instead, physicians of that bygone era resorted to such odd-sounding remedies as "mercury, strychnine, arsenic," "opium," and tobacco, and these were among the drugs Ellen White was referring to (Selected Messages, vol. 2, pp. 278, 443, 445; Temperance, p. 63).
We thus might expect the situation to be better today than in Ellen White's day, given the fact that medical science has progressed to the point that far fewer drugs contain mercury, strychnine, and arsenic. In fact, one has to resort to homeopathy to get a dose of strycnine, aka nux vomica. Thus it wouldn't surprise us if today's mortality statistics for drugs are lower than 50%.
But just how high are the statistics today? And what drugs should we consider in answering that question? A careful perusal of Spiritual Gifts and other works indicates that Ellen White, similar to modern authorities, classified tobacco, alcohol, and even tea and coffee as drugs:
Therefore, when comparing today's mortality statistics with Ellen White's statement that "more deaths have been caused by drug-taking than from all other causes combined," we should include deaths from alcohol and tobacco.
The Cause of About 25% of Deaths
The March 10, 2004 issue of JAMA carried a very interesting study by Mokdad et. al. entitled, "Actual Causes of Death in the United States, 2000." Out of 2.4 million deaths that year, the following were listed as among the causes of death:
The above numbers indicate that roughly 25% of fatalities in the year 2000 were due to tobacco, alcohol, and illicit drugs. While that's a huge chunk of the >50% figure Ellen White referred to, it isn't >50%. But then, we've got a number of other studies to look at.
Properly Adminstered Drugs
Quite remarkable was the report by John Hopkins' Dr. Barbara Starfield in the July 26, 2000 issue of JAMA. This report ("Is US Health Really the Best in the World?") expressed concern that U.S. health falls way behind other industrialized nations. It summarized death rates from several causes in the following way:
Why the Numbers Could Be Higher
When we examine the study that Dr. Starfield based her 106,000 figure on, we discover that the picture may be better or worse than that. According to Lazarou et. al. in "Incidence of Adverse Drug Reactions in Hospitalized Patients," deaths in hospitals due to properly prescribed and properly administered drugs range from 76,000 to 137,000 (JAMA, Apr. 15, 1998). 106,000 was but the average of these two numbers.
Lazarou's study only considered serious Adverse Drug Reactions (ADRs) in its calculations, and excluded events considered to be possible ADRs. It also excluded events "caused by errors in administration, noncompliance, overdose, drug abuse, or therapeutic failures."
The study defined a serious ADR as "an ADR that requires hospitalization, prolongs hospitalization, is permanently disabling, or results in death." One can imagine that a serious ADR that was permanently disabling rather than fatal this year could be a contributing factor toward death in later years. This consideration would make Ellen White's statistics higher than those of Lazarou et. al., since she does not specify that the drugs have to cause death immediately.
Another reason why her statistics might be higher is explained by Dr. Starfield:
In other words, since most fatalities are likely blamed on the patient's organ failure rather than on the drugs they were taking that caused the organ failure, Dr. Starfield contends that we really don't know how many people are dying each year because of prescription drugs. And this problem is a global one, for at least in Ireland, "less than 10% of all serious" ADRs get reported (National Medicines Information Centre, vol. 8, num. 3 (2002), p. 3).
Yet another reason why Ellen White's statistics might be higher is the fact that Lazarou's study only considered deaths due to drugs in hospitalized patients, whereas she was referring to everyone, whether outpatient or inpatient.
The various types of ADRs Lazarou et. al. gave were as follows:
Thus, even given the fact that "most deaths resulting from these underlying causes are likely to be coded according to the immediate cause of death (such as organ failure)," Lazarou still concludes that "fatal ADRs ranked between the fourth and sixth leading cause of death in the United States in 1994."
How can this be, given the fact that new drugs are routinely tested so well? Maryann Napoli of the Center for Medical Consumers explained some of the reasons why in her testimony before the "Meeting of the Institute of Medicine 's (IOM's) Committee on the Assessment of the US Drug Safety System," a meeting that occurred on July 19, 2005.
Mrs. Napoli explained that drug companies sponsor the trials that test the drugs, and thus are responsible for the reports that get published in "high-profile medical journals." (Sound like a possible conflict of interest?) While those reports describe supposed benefits quite well, they frequently omit key data regarding ADRs. For example, in men, statin drugs are supposed to lower the risk of non-fatal heart attacks by 1.8%, yet the reality is that that 1.8% lower risk is accompanied by a 1.4% increased risk of death, significant disability, hospitalization, or a life-threatening event. Moreover, 60% of the trials being reviewed refused to turn over their "serious adverse events" data, thus making it impossible to know really how beneficial or detrimental these drugs really are.
It isn't as if Ms. Napoli's concerns are new. Back in 2001 John P. A. Ioannidis, MD and Joseph Lau, MD had this to say after looking at 192 randomized drug trials:
29%, 39%, and 46%. That's not real good considering that people's lives are at stake.
Rat Poison a Common Cause of ADRs
An advisory committee for the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics has a Pharmacy and Therapeutics Subcommittee, which puts out periodic newsletters. One of those newsletters had this to say:
Warfarin (aka Coumadin), the first drug on the above list, has been a common ingredient in rat poison for a long time. A common anti-coagulant, it causes rats and mice to bleed internally, which then makes them thirsty, which then makes them head out of doors to find water. Since they end up dying outside instead of in your house, your house smells better, and that's why it's been so popular in rat poison.
Unfortunately for a lady we visited in the hospital in early 2006, she had been given warfarin, without adequately monitoring her blood to make sure her clotting ability had not dropped too far. It's absolutely essential that anyone taking Coumadin be carefully monitored, but this lady wasn't. She ended up bleeding inside her skull, and was in ICU when we saw her. She nearly died.
Ellen White's Alternative
Okay, so what did Ellen White advocate using instead of all these drugs?
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