Maybe you can’t find a solution to every problem at the bottom of a prescription pill bottle

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I haven’t been sleeping well.

I’ve never slept well, actually. I’m up late, even though I’d rather be asleep, and I wake often during the night. When I do sleep, I sleep restlessly. I don’t dream. I’m always tired. Sure, this could have something to do with our 8 month old twins, but my sleeping issues developed long before the little ones arrived.

I tell you this in order to explain why I was Googling tips for curing insomnia. I don’t want drugs. I won’t take them. I just wanted some advice. Specifically, I wanted better advice than “count in your head until you fall asleep.” I tried that one a few nights ago; I got to 3, and then I started thinking about Pi. And then I tried to list the digits in Pi, but I could only remember 3.14. And then I started thinking about the movie Pi — not Life of Pi, but the Aronofsky surrealist psycho-thriller from the late ’90s. And that, for some reason, made me think of Christopher Nolan’s film Memento, which made me wonder about the cultural appeal of existential nihilism, which made me think of a blog post I wanted to write, which made me think of an email from an ad agency that I never responded to, which made me think of a different post that I wanted to write, which made me forget about the other thing I was thinking about, which… etcetera and so forth.

There probably isn’t anything that can cure my sleep issues, short of a lobotomy. Or prescription drugs, which can essentially be the same thing.

In my cyber travels, I stumbled upon a “sleep aid” commercial for a drug called Intermezzo. I remember this one from about a year ago; I saw it on TV late one night. I don’t know if they’re still airing this, but the fact that it exists — the fact that it ever existed — tells you everything you need to know about the depth of America’s prescription drug problem. The commercial is 90 seconds long. And by that I mean, the commercial is 30 seconds long, with most of the remaining 60 seconds devoted to explaining all of the bad things that might happen to you if you ingest the product they’re selling.

If you’re keeping track at home: that’s 1/3 “buy this” and 2/3 “here’s how it will ruin you.”

Side effects include: shortness of breath, driving while not fully awake, aggression, confusion, hallucinations, and thoughts of suicide.

But you’ll totally get a good night’s rest — right before you fly into a fit of rage, murder your neighbor and kill yourself.

Drug “side effects” aren’t just a matter of annoying rashes and bouts of constipation anymore. The drugs we’re into these days dive right into our core and mess with our conception of ourselves. They affect you, at the most fundamental level. They take you out of yourself. They change you.

Not all prescription drugs, but some.

Too many. Way too many.

Here’s a general rule to which I adhere rather strictly: I won’t consume anything that might — however slim the possibility — cause me to consider ending my own existence. Call me a Christian Scientist if you like, but I don’t particularly want to take a drug that will cause thoughts of any kind, least of all suicidal ones.

Of course, Intermezzo isn’t nearly as popular as Ambien. I’m not sure if they mention it in the ads, but Ambien has such a potent ability to alter your behavior, that it’s actually been successfully used as a defense in murder trials.

Remember: marijuana is still illegal in most states. Its prohibition no doubt meets the approval of the same sorts of people who’d take these dangerous hallucinogens just to help them catch some shuteye.

Indeed, it’s a wonder any drugs remain illegal in this country, considering 70 percent of us are prescribed at least one each year.

Percentage of Americans on FIVE or more prescriptions in a single year? 20.

That’s 20 percent. Five or more prescriptions. 20 percent.

This is America.

I am American, therefore I’m told that I must look in a pill bottle for a cure for every ailment, and every discomfort, and every part of my mind, my body and my soul that doesn’t work how society tells me it ought to work.

And while we worry about how to keep illegal narcotics off the streets, more people are killed by the stuff you pick up at Walgreens than by heroin and cocaine combined.

Prescription drugs have surged ahead of automobile accidents to claim the ignoble distinction of being the 4th leading cause of death in the United States.

Don’t worry, though. As 1 in 5 high school students report using prescription pills recreationally, and as half a million people a year visit emergency rooms after abusing prescription painkillers, the drug companies rake in billions.

Oh, but they’ve earned that money. They’ve invested in us.  They spend 4 billion dollars a year on ads, stuffing 80 drug ads into every hour of TV, every day, all year. According to a study a few years ago, they spend twice as much on marketing as they do on research.

I wonder: the 760 million dollars they gave to doctors over a two year period — does that count as marketing, or do they have a separate section in their budget for “blatant, unmitigated bribery”?

And what about the money Pharma paid to attend meetings with advisory panels for the FDA? Is that a “research” thing?

It’s a blessing that FDA is on the case, by the way. The FDA: protecting Americans from scary drugs since 1906. Also, the FDA: a government agency so twisted and dishonest that its own scientists wrote a letter to the president complaining about the widespread corruption they’d encountered while employed there.

From the Fox News article:

…the FDA dissidents alleged that agency managers use intimidation to squelch scientific debate, leading to the approval of medical devices whose effectiveness is questionable and which may not be entirely safe.

I’m not against all prescription drugs. Lord knows, modern medicine has saved a lot of lives and done a ton of good. But that does not excuse the current state of things. We are becoming a culture of chemically dependent drug addicts. Many of us might be highly functioning addicts — but we’re addicts all same.

While we sermonize to our kids about the dangers of drugs, we stuff our medicine cabinets with the chemical equivalents of the very poisons we warn them against. Do you think they don’t notice this?

Yet the hypocrisy isn’t the real issue. The real issue is the numbness; the chemical haze that sets in.

Sure, sometimes drugs are necessary. Sometimes drugs can heal, and treat, and cure. But I’m afraid that we’ve completely ruled out the possibility that not every bump or bruise or pain or mental affliction needs to be drowned under a mountain of pills. Sometimes we can look for answers somewhere else. And sometimes, frankly, maybe it’s OK if we hurt a little.

Maybe.

In any case, please excuse me. I have a slight toothache so I’m going to chug painkillers until my liver explodes.

This is America.

It is the American Way.

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268 Responses to Maybe you can’t find a solution to every problem at the bottom of a prescription pill bottle

  1. Lauri says:

    Matt, I admit I’m not an avid follower, but from the few articles I’ve read of yours, I’ve liked and respected your viewpoint. It seems that you are more holistically-minded than most. If you still struggle with insomnia, there are natural remedies that can do worlds of good. I’m a chiropractor who specializes in the top-most region of the neck, and I’ve both seen and heard pretty incredible results regarding sleep, energy levels, and breathing issues with (very gentle, very specific) treatment to this area of the spine. The neurologic and vascular implications of a misalignment at the upper level of the neck – the first vertebra, named the atlas, or C1 – are great. Might want to read up on it or explore for yourself. Acupuncture may also be helpful. For more info you can go to http://www.globalAO.com. Good luck!

    • Jennifer says:

      I broke my c1, c2 & c3 in an accident 19 months ago and haven’t slept well since. I’m taking amitriptoline to help me get the rest I need but didn’t know that chiropractic techniques may be able to help. Can you explain how that works?

  2. Emily says:

    Hi Matt,
    I realize that you exaggerate for effect. It’s one reason why your blog is so fun to read. However, I feel I must point out that NOT being willing to consider medication as a matter of principle is just as wrong as ALWAYS going to medication to solve every hurt. The key is judicial use. I firmly believe God gave us modern medicine as a blessing. It’s up to us to be grateful for the gift and use wise judgement. I agree that meds shouldn’t be our “go-to” solution every time. God gave us a brain, and expects us to use it!

  3. Danny says:

    You could use doterra essential oils. With just a couple of drops of Lavender on your pillow at night you would sleep like a baby!

  4. Rachel says:

    In the latest Oprah magazine she had an article on AMSR’s. I wonder if you would have a response. You can look for AMSR on Youtube and listen to these as you fall asleep.

  5. Jeanne says:

    I totally agree with you on this one!

    Watching those commercials for prescription medications, and hearing the long list of hazardous side-effects that they ramble through, while at the same time, images of happy people, enjoying a fun-filled, blissful existence contradict your eyes from what your ears are hearing. . . I can’t help buy exclaim that: “ANYONE who can hear what they are saying, and then, when the announcer invites you at the end of the commercial to ‘ask your doctor to prescribe this [stinking @#*&*] for you, the next time you go for an appointment,’ and even remotely CONSIDERS doing so, has to be out of their flippin’ mind!!!”

  6. Glad to see that I’m not the only one who can’t go to sleep because their mind won’t shut up.

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  8. cricket says:

    Hylands Calm Forte works for me without side effects. I work nights as a nurse and homeschooling my kids during the day. Rarely sleep. Sleep “aids” are evil. Intermezzo is the same drug as Ambien just another name to make a pharmaceutical company more money. Its worse than Restoril (temazepam) Ativan (lorazepam) Lunesta (eszopiclone) and Desryel (trazodone). I hand them out every night I work because people *have* to have them. Cutting out stress and extracurricular activities helped me. I was a useless angry mommy without some sleep. Good luck.

  9. dachs_dude says:

    I often wonder: Is the 4 billion a year spent on commercials part of the “money spent on healthcare” figure in the USA?

  10. Daphne says:

    You may want to look into your mineral/vitamin levels. Low magnesium, for example, can make it very hard to fall asleep! Supplementing with magnesium has helped me a lot with sound, quick sleep.

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  12. cheeneychat says:

    Prescriptions are the “American way” because they are easy. Everyone wants a little pill to solve their problems. I think it would be important to know WHY you can’t sleep. Do you chug caffeine at night? Do you exercise daily? When I say exercise I mean ACTUAL exercise not the usual American, “yeah I walk a lot”. Are you getting enough vitamins and minerals through your daily living and if not do you take vitamins?

  13. Winding road says:

    Sleep issues are an epidemic in our country along with anxiety. Why wouldn’t they be considering the high-tech, fast-paced world we live in? Even in just the last 5 years it has increased in intensity with smartphones giving us notifications every 5 minutes making us feel the need to constantly “keep up”. I have suffered from anxiety in bouts, some genetic and likely some environmental. Last spring I had an intense bout with insomnia and have 2 young children I stay home with so felt that sleep was necessary. My doctor prescribed generic xanax to help and it does without any side effects. I do understand long term use is not good with any drug and don’t abuse it but feel it helps. I believe that being sleep-deprived is just as hazardous or more to ourselves and others than finding a reasonable way to help. Whether it is a doctor prescribed xanax, melatonin, or valerian, there are safe options out there that don’t mean you are taking one thing to make another thing explode.

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  15. Meghann says:

    Have you tried different herbal teas? There are quite a few teas in Canada that are natural herbs and are built to make you just drowsy enough to fall asleep… Although with your post being how it is, I’m honestly not sure how many herbal teas survive in America 0_o

  16. Relysh13 says:

    For a long time I took the instruction of healthcare professionals at face value. I wound up with multiple diagnoses of different mental illnesses, a bleak future to “look forward to,” and a crazy cocktail of mind numbing prescription drugs. After years of living in a complete fog it seemed I had out-crazied my crazy meds, ultimately culminating in one of those “driving while not fully awake” episodes you mentioned, except mine ended rather traumatically. Months later I would find out, because of a routine blood test, that I had severe hypothyroidism due to an undiagnosed autoimmune disease. 12 weeks of thyroid hormone treatment later, I was off most of my mood altering medications and feeling clearer than I had in years. Now, 2 years out, all I rely on is a low dose of thyroid hormone replacement and a lot of Jesus. Coming down from all those drugs was a difficult process though. They trap you into believing that you cannot survive without them, it’s a pretty desperate place to be.

  17. Ruth says:

    Nice! You hit the nail on the head with the toothache sentence (go to the Dentist-stop visiting the ER for narcs and antibiotics). I am an ER nurse and constantly see people looking for medication to “fix” everything. Moreover, a vast majority of people seeking certain medications (pain killers, anxiety meds etc.) appear to do so in order to continue to live life in a haze, completely numb to any feeling. I have noticed an epidemic belief Americans embrace-that they should never feel pain or discomfort. Pain is natural, discomfort is natural, emotions are natural! It is discouraging to see the potential that is wasted by so many people, and to know that this crisis is exponentially growing. Just because there is a pill for something does not mean it should be taken. As for your insomnia-I think people who have busy minds have problems sleeping. I’ve always found that praying and having some quiet time with God is very helpful. Other tips I have heard over the years-no TV in the bedroom, don’t read in bed (your bed is for sleep and sex), have a good exercise regimen. Sleep apnea should also be considered as a cause unrestful sleep. Best wishes for lots of Z’s!

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