As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Monday, March 10, 2008

The Sickening Of America

The number of stories I'm seeing about the obstacles you have to traverse in your daily life just to remain relatively healthy are going up and up. Certainly there are occupations that are increasingly dangerous, as multiple tours of duty are making our soldiers go deaf, and our good friends at Halliburton are paying no attention to contaminated drinking water. But you don't have to be serving in Iraq to have your drinking water filled with all kinds of contaminants.

A vast array of pharmaceuticals -- including antibiotics, anti-convulsants, mood stabilizers and sex hormones -- have been found in the drinking water supplies of at least 41 million Americans, an Associated Press investigation shows.

To be sure, the concentrations of these pharmaceuticals are tiny, measured in quantities of parts per billion or trillion, far below the levels of a medical dose. Also, utilities insist their water is safe.

But the presence of so many prescription drugs -- and over-the-counter medicines like acetaminophen and ibuprofen -- in so much of our drinking water is heightening worries among scientists of long-term consequences to human health.

This is actually a function of the society just being completely overmedicated. The drugs get into the bloodstream and eventually into the sewer system and the reservoirs, and not all of them are cleansed. Forget a lot of drugs in the water, there are a lot of drugs in people, to a level that we really don't know the residual effects.

The sickening of America comes in all forms and fashions. Whether it's coming from treatment at clinics that aren't sufficiently sanitary or well-managed, or tainted drugs that we allow into the country, we don't have a handle on what we ingest. Basic health care costs so much money, $225,000 for every retiring couple, money that is so scarce that we're rationing health insurance like it's a lottery, and offering health care like it's charity. This is like a feedback loop. We're more sickened, we're more medicated to cover the sickness, that makes us more sick, it costs more money to medicate, and the system breaks down.

It's easy to get caught up in this primary fight and lose sight of why we need more effective leadership to repair all these systems that are so terribly broken. We need more than a health care system that doesn't rely on charity or the lottery, we need a medical system that doesn't use drugs like a band-aid and doesn't have a Food and Drug Administration that is practically nonexistent. The last thing that anyone wants is a collapsed system; even the health insurers understand that. But a system of care that is so hurried and sloppy and unconcerned with individual treatment that it becomes nothing more than "take two of these and call me in the morning" doesn't work either. A world-class health care system is focused on prevention and promoting proper diet and exercise, not supplements and substitutes and work-arounds. Otherwise, we're all bound to get sickened, and we'll all be paying for it.

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