Prescription medication can be a complicated topic, especially for those with a number of mental health issues. Taking medication, in a time where we have seen the dangers of the Opioid crisis and pharmaceutical companies requires an examination of how medication helps, hurts and who is most in need.
A Lack Where There’s A Need
So, who is most vulnerable, or in need when it comes to medication? Those who are victim to pharmaceutical poverty. According to Frontiers.org, pharmaceutical poverty is what takes place when a patient can not afford the medication or medical products they require. Frontiers‘ research also shows that women are more likely to use medication for pain and mental health disorders. The circumstances of poverty also exacerbate these mental health conditions in impoverished neighborhoods. This puts the impoverished in a position where they either may not be able to receive access to medication, and may have to find a way to make a limited amount of work in the case that they can get access.
As the Washington Post states, this system of picking and choosing when to take prescription medication (or stretching it out) is crucial to their mental health, and can exacerbate both physical and mental health issues. Columnist Steven Petrow recounted his plethora of mental and physical health medications, which he would skip due to how expensive the medication was. The problem was that when he would skip his medication, he “fell into the darkest hole of depression.” His doctor then instructed him to get back on his regular dosage immediately. The problem is, if someone is victim to pharmaceutical poverty, they may not be able to go back and refill their doses, and may not have getting back on their medication as an option. They don’t have the treatment to remedy their suffering, and get them back to the, “normal,” medication offered them.
What Medication Can Offer
This can also be seen in the case of 42-year-old Lavonda West of Daytona Beach, who was diagnosed with Bipolar II (defined by a pattern of depressive episodes and hypomanic episodes, but not the full-blown manic episodes that are typical of Bipolar I Disorder) when she was 22 years old. Friends eventually had her checked into a mental health facility. What has helped her, however, is therapy and medication.
“When someone is diagnosed with having diabetes or high blood pressure they see a doctor and are prescribed medication,” said West. “Someone dealing with mental illness needs the attention of a qualified professional the same as any other illness,” West said.
There is the argument that medication is more than just taking drugs to obtain a high or dependency, but that does not track how medication functions. Medication is meant to address an already present chemical imbalance (though, as Medical News Today points out, there are several other factors to take into consideration along with the imbalance like family history, genetics, a history of drug abuse, and certain medications that are taken) in the brain. This is why if a person with ADHD took Adderall, it would just make them feel, “normal,” while giving it to someone who is neurotypical would make them high.
However, there is also the issue of over-medicating. As pointed out by Knowable Magazine, the pharmaceutical industry is a for-profit system, and this may result in doctors prescribing more medication. There can also be the issue of a patient going to several different doctors, and in turn, them being prescribed multiple medications where they are unaware of the ways they interact.
“All the specialty doctors just focus on their area. Who will be the person to look out for potential interactions, or to stop some medication?” Grace Lu-Yao, a cancer epidemiologist at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia said.
The Downsides of Over Medication
There’s also the addictiveness of some prescription medications, like Ativan, Xanax, Klonopin, and Valium. With the ongoing opioid crisis and the effect it’s had on generations, it’s understandable for people to want to avoid these addictive medications, especially when there is an increased chance of becoming an addict themselves. The opioid crisis also made it clear to the public that just because a doctor recommends it, it may not always be your best (or only) medical option. As So-Cal Sunrise points out, opioid use disorder (or opioid addiction) is a result of someone trying to self-medicate. So if your doctor has given you a medication that’s a stronger dose than you need (i.e. being given Benzodiazepines (Benzos) to treat anxiety when they could have given you a less addictive alternative or given a much smaller dose), you may become addicted . Once addicted to an opiate it is provenly difficult to get off of it. A case of overmedication may not be as simple as feeling a bit strange because your doctor gave you something too strong and a few things need to be switched around. There can be a detrimental effect.
Medication is not inherently evil. As West states, when something is off in our bodies we do what we can to make it better. There is nothing wrong with doing the same with our brain, especially when access to these better mental health opportunities is rare (and arguably more valuable) in impoverished communities. But, there is a difference between choosing what works best for balancing out your brain (whether that’s medication, therapy, an improved diet, etc.) and being pushed medication that does more harm than good. Ask what your options are, ask what non-opiate medications you can have, and see what alternatives are available to you. Medication should not be shamed or shunned, but it shouldn’t be pushed on you, especially when you have not been given the chance to ask questions.
Resources for Affordable Medication: