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6 Kinds of Pills Big Pharma Tries to Get You Hooked on for Life

Since direct-to-consumer drug advertising debuted in the late 1990s, the number of people on prescription drugs for life has ballooned.

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2. Hormone Replacement Therapy

When the popular HRT pill Prempro was launched by Wyeth, now Pfizer, in the 1980s, then-CEO Bob Essner told sales associates, “We can make real the full promise of HRT to create in the near future a world where the majority of women will start HRT at menopause and continue on it for the rest of their lives,” reports Philadelphia magazine. The scheme of treating estrogen "deficiency" for 30 or 40 years worked until 2002 when HRT was found to cause breast cancer, heart attacks, strokes, blood clots and dementia. They were some of the conditions it was supposed to prevent. Oops. But Pharma has not abandoned the billion-dollar franchise and news about estrogen benefits is creeping back into the news, predicated on the public's short memory. People don't lose hormones because they age; they age because they lose hormones, say Pharma hormone sellers. Even men now "suffer from" testosterone deficiencies or Low T.

3. Happy Pills

Pharma's success in convincing people with anxiety or the "blues" that they need an antidepressant was a Wall Street coup. Instead of taking the occasional Xanax, people agreed to alter their entire body chemistry with a drug they took for months, years or decades.

But as antidepressants fall in popularity, because of their many side effects, including alarming "discontinuation symptoms" when people try to stop, WebMD is conducting damage control to keep people on them. Don’t believe that antidepressants turn “you into a zombie,” make you gain weight, ruin your sex life, make you "forget your problems rather than dealing with them" or cost too much, says the huge pro-pill Web site in one article. Depression is linked to heart disease, obesity, diabetes, Alzheimer’s and cancer says a second WebMD article. Stay on your meds.

4. Proton Pump Inhibitors (PPIs)

Some say gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is just lowly "heartburn" whipped up by Pharma into a profitable disease. But over 110 million prescriptions were written for proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) like Nexium and Prevacid in 2009, making it the third most prescribed class of drugs. Long-term use of PPIs increases the risk of hip, wrist and spine fractures, the FDA warns and the drugs can cause potentially lethal C. difficile-caused diarrhea and community-acquired pneumonia says national health advocacy group, Public Citizen. But Pharma has a different message. GERD can lead to esophageal inflammation, scar tissue and cancer, if untreated, it tells patients and symptoms won't go away on their own. No wonder doctors call PPIs "Purple Crack."

5. Statins

The best-selling statin drugs like Lipitor and Crestor that lower their cholesterol risks are pretty much the definition of "lifer medications," taken in perpetuity. Who would dare to go off of them and risk cardiovascular events? 

One patient on a cholesterol drug site writes that despite feeling "miserable" on statins, "What do you do? Go off the statins and let your arteries clog up?" But medical professionals say it is not safe to stay on statins indefinitely. Patients are at risk of liver dysfunction, acute kidney failure, cataracts and muscle damage known as myopathy, reports British Medical Journal. And statins can also cause memory loss and increase the risk of developing of Type 2 diabetes and muscle damage, FDA warns.

Still the appeal of a drug that lowers the risk of cardiovascular events without a change in diet or lifestyle made Lipitor the top-selling drug in the world, until recently, when its patent expired. Statins are now prescribed for kids, for the same reason.

6. Asthma-Control Medicines

 
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