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From Graveyards to Starbucks

October 30, 2006
S. Michael Craven
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The United States makes up just a measly 5 percent of the world's population, but it accounts for a whopping 42 percent of the world's spending on prescription drugs -- more than $250 billion just last year. In 2002, Americans filled 3,340,000,000 outpatient prescriptions. That's 12 prescriptions for every man, woman, and child in and there doesn’t appear to be any slowdown in sight, according to Pharmacy Times, reporting that "for the past 3 years, prescription volume has grown by 25% in the United States.”

Dr. Jay S. Cohen, M.D. in commenting on this phenomenon said, “Drugs have direct, powerful effects on human systems. Some of these effects are negative, and taking multiple drugs -- as 25% of Americans do -- increases the risks exponentially. Psychologically, the growing attitude that drugs are the answer for every ache and angst is destructive for individuals and societies.”

Practically speaking there is the impact on rising healthcare costs which affect us all. Dr. Cohen points out that “for many healthcare systems, prescription drugs cost more than all doctor visits or hospitalizations combined.” Certainly there are many essential medications that contribute to the health and recovery of millions but they are also “the #4 leading cause of death, cause more than 1 million hospitalizations annually, and are a major cause of disability and drug dependency.” (Lazarou, Pomeranz, Corey, JAMA , 1998 Apr 15, 279(15):1200-5.)

Furthermore, the top selling prescription drugs in this country are NOT related to the treatment of serious and life threatening illness but rather health conditions more commonly related to lifestyle and poor nutrition. According to one physician, “Many doctors treating high cholesterol and high blood pressure turn to drugs without ever discussing diet and exercise, although many of these disorders are nutritional, not medical. Many patients prefer a pill to changing harmful habits. With drug advertising everywhere, what is the message being drummed into us and our children: that for every symptom and sensation the solution is a pill?”

What is more disturbing is the fact that many of these new prescription medications are developed to “treat” an increasingly ambiguous and generalized set of “symptoms” that are common to everyday life in which we all grow old and ultimately die. According to an ABC News report, marketing firms are hired by pharmaceutical companies to come up with catchy names for their newly created “syndromes.” At Brand Institute, Inc., a marketing firm, naming, or re-naming, syndromes for drug companies is 20 percent of their business. New York clinical psychologist Leonore Tiefer calls this "disease mongering" just to sell drugs.

Brand Institute president, Jim Dettore defends the manufacture of these “syndromes” by saying that companies like his are simply responding to the needs of consumers. "Baby boomers are saying, 'I wanna live. I don't wanna sneeze. I don't wanna cough. I don't wanna run around with a runny nose. I want -- I wanna be perfect,'" said Dettore.

This is one more example of how consumerism affects our lives and ultimately produces barriers to the reception of the Gospel. In a consumerist culture the emphasis ultimately descends to “quick and easy” therapeutic solutions to everything that hinders us from experiencing personal peace.

In his monumental book, The Culture of Narcissism, Christopher Lasch points out that:

Plagued by anxiety, depression, vague discontents, a sense of inner emptiness, the “psychological man” of the 20th century seeks neither individual aggrandizement nor spiritual transcendence but peace of mind… Therapists, not priests or popular preachers of self-help or models of success like the captains of industry become his principal allies in the struggle for composure; he turns to them in hopes of achieving the modern equivalent of salvation, “mental health.”

With the modern emphasis on “psychological man” instead of the spiritual man we are always only treating surface symptoms, symptoms that often serve to reveal our inner emptiness, our sense that something larger is wrong with the world. With the modern emphasis on therapy the world only mitigates [temporarily] against the effects of the Fall. The narcissistic culture through therapy and consumerism works desperately to distance death and suffering and to mollify those inner longings and emptiness that only reconciliation to God can satisfy. The modern obsession is to remove or conceal all of those unpleasant things that remind us that life is fleeting and full of trouble.

In contrast, the church and her people have served as a sometimes unwelcome reminder of these facts in its effort to point people toward their only hope: Jesus Christ. Historically, it was the institution of the church that served as an unremitting reminder of the reality of life within a fallen world. By marking life’s most significant milestones: birth, marriage, and death; the church called aloud that life is both wonderful and precious but not as it was intended in the beginning when “everything was good.” A child’s entry into the world was marked by christening or dedication, maturation into adulthood and the progression of life was initiated through the covenantal ceremony of marriage and the transition of life unto death was signified by the funeral and interment of the dead into the ground around the church.  

This task remains and the Church must maintain its place in reminding the world that even though death and suffering comes to us all there is hope to be found only in Jesus. Unfortunately in our desire to accommodate ourselves to the world we have replaced our graveyards with Starbuck’s and in so doing we, like the world, allay the grim reality that has served to give men pause, to reflect upon their condition and acknowledge their deep and desperate need for God.

© 2006 S. Michael Craven

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Response from : Lynn Kizer  

October 30, 2006 9:45 AM

I'm glad I got to go to a funeral recently and even went to the graveside service. The deceased was in the military and the funeral director took great pains to correctly fold the flag for the widow.

My daughter attended a funeral recently of a deceased classmate. I'm glad she got to attend. She also attended her grandmother's memorial service followed by a trip to the cemetery to visit the gravesite.

Response from : Cleata  

October 30, 2006 10:58 AM

thanks for this article. I am finally realizing that my taking different medications contribute to health problems. I would much rather get serious about losing excess pounds and be able to get off medications that do damage to my body. A pill is just an easy, effortless way to deal with health problems and as a Christian I realize that depending on my Saviour is what I need to do. Recognizing the problem is a major step to solving it or at least improving the situation.


Response from : Jennifer  

October 31, 2006 10:37 AM

I agree with what you have to say about our culture here. I have been wary of the trend to medicate everything for a while now.

I'm just curious what you mean by "we have replaced our graveyards with Starbucks." Are you just making the point that (as a society - Christians and non-Christians alike) we would rather keep ourselves busy, pump ourselves full of caffeine, etc., than have time to consider and be sobered by our humanity and fallenness?

Just trying to gain clarity...thanks.

Response from : Michael Craven  

October 31, 2006 3:39 PM

Dear Jennifer,

That statement has to do with the trend among many mega-Churches that are creating modern country clubs in order to attract the world, i.e. installing Starbucks and workout facilities in their churches.

Thanks for your comments.

Response from : Mark Overton  

November 2, 2006 10:57 PM

There are several other facets to the problem this country faces with prescription drugs. One facet has to do with the medical philosophy in this country which espouses treatment over prevention. The old adage, "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure," is relatively ignored in this country. In contrast, it is not uncommon in China to pay your doctor while you are healthy and to stop paying when you are ill; of course, this places responsibility on the part of the patient to do his or her part to remain healthy.

The other factor has to do with the pharmaceutical industry in the U.S. As a doctor / friend of mine explained, suppose the researchers at a pharmaceutical clinic informed the CEO that they had developed a new medicine which could be used to prevent a certain disease if taken as a vaccine or which could be used to control a disease for the remainder of a patient's life. The driving force might be what is best for the shareholders even though that may not be what is best for society, and since more revenue could be generated by administering the medication as a treatment than as a vaccine, the treatment might win out due to the bottom line.


Response from : Vicky A. Taggart  

November 3, 2006 12:55 PM

I have believed this for many years. Try informing the younger generation about this truth and they think I am crazy and uninformed. I have news for those who think this way, our Lord and Savior is the true way.


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