The USA's medicine cabinets are more crowded than ever, with almost half of all people taking at least one prescription medicine and one in six taking three or more medications, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' annual check-up on Americans' health. "Americans are taking medicines that lower cholesterol and reduce the threat of heart disease, that help lift people out of debilitating depressions, and that keep diabetes in check," said HHS Secretary Tommy G. Thompson.

The report, Health, United States 2004 presents the latest health data collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) National Center for Health Statistics and dozens of other federal health agencies, academic and professional health associations, and international health organizations.

The latest report shows continued improvements in Americans' health, with life expectancy at birth up to 77.3 years in 2002, a record, and deaths from heart disease, cancer and stroke - the nation's three leading killers - all down 1 percent to 3 percent. Prescription drug use is rising among people of all ages, and use increases with age. Five out of six persons 65 and older are taking at least one medication and almost half the elderly take three or more.

Adult use of antidepressants almost tripled between 1988-1994 and 1999-2000. Ten percent of women 18 and older and 4 percent of men now take antidepressants. Prescriptions for nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, antidepressants, blood glucose/sugar regulators and cholesterol-lowering statin drugs, in particular, increased notably between 1996 and 2002. The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey found a 13 percent increase between 1988-1994 and 1999-2000 in the proportion of Americans taking at least one drug and a 40 percent jump in the proportion taking three or more medicines.

Forty-four percent reported taking at least one drug in the past month and 17 percent were taking three or more in the 2000 survey. The annual report to Congress showed that health expenditures climbed 9.3 percent in 2002 to $1.6 trillion. Although prescription drugs comprise only one-tenth of the total medical bill, they remain the fastest growing expenditure.

The price of drugs rose 5 percent, but wider use of medicines pushed total expenditures up 15.3 percent in 2002. Drug expenditures have risen at least 15 percent every year since 1998. Medicare, the federal health insurance program for the nation's seniors and disabled residents, will begin routinely paying for prescription drugs in January 2006. After a $250 deductible, Medicare will cover three-quarters of drug costs up to $2,250 a year.

The United States spent 14.9 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP) on health care in 2002, up from 14.1 in 2001. Only two other countries, Switzerland and Germany, spent as much as 11 percent of their GDP in 2001, the latest year that international statistics were available. Canada was fourth at 9.7 percent of GDP. Among the report's findings:

  • Three times as many white adults as black or Mexican adults took antidepressants;
  • Boys were prescribed drugs to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) twice as often as girls, but antidepressants were prescribed to boys and girls at the same rates;
  • Private health insurance covered almost half of prescription drug costs in 2002, up from a quarter in 1990. People paid 30 percent out of their own pockets.

Health, United States includes a chart book of selected health measures and 153 trend tables with current and historical information on health status, health care utilization, resources and expenditures. The data are presented by age, sex, race and ethnic background, and some measures are also shown by state.

The report also found that life expectancy at birth rose to 74.5 years for men and 79.9 years for women in 2002. For those turning 65, life expectancy is age 81.6 for men and 84.5 for women. Other noteworthy findings:

  • Racial and ethnic disparities in mortality persist, but the gaps in life expectancy between the sexes and between the black and white population are narrowing;
  • Deaths from on-the-job injuries fell 23 percent between 1992 and 2002 to 4 deaths per 100,000 workers.
  • Injuries accounted for 36 percent of visits to emergency departments in 2001-2002.


Source: Orthomolecular Medicine News Service, November 9, 2005


(OMNS) The most elementary of forensic arguments is, where are the bodies?

The 2003 Annual Report of the American Association of Poison Control Centers Toxic Exposures Surveillance System (1) states that there have been only two deaths allegedly caused by vitamins. Almost half of all Americans take nutritional supplements every day, some 145,000,000 individual doses daily, for a total of over 53 billion doses annually. And from that, two alleged deaths? That is a product safety record without equal.

Conversely, pharmaceutical drugs, properly prescribed and taken as directed, kill 106,000 Americans each year. That is over 2,000 each week, dead from their prescriptions. (2) Some physicians estimate the true number of drug-induced deaths to be far higher. (3)
Fatalities are by no means limited to drug products. In the USA in the year 2003, there was a death from "Cream / lotion / makeup," a death from "Granular laundry detergent," one death from plain soap, one death from baking soda, and one death from table salt.

Other deaths reported by the American Association of Poison Control Centers included:

aspirin: 59 deaths
aerosol air fresheners: 2 deaths
perfume/cologne/aftershave: 2 deaths
charcoal: 3 deaths
dishwashing detergent: 3 deaths
(and interestingly, weapons of mass destruction: 0 deaths)

On the other hand, nutritional supplements have proven to be exceptionally safe. Specifically:

* There were no deaths from B-complex vitamin supplements.

* There were no deaths from niacin.

* There were no deaths from vitamin A.

* There were no deaths from vitamin D.

* There were no deaths from vitamin E.

There was, supposedly, one alleged death from vitamin C and one alleged death from vitamin B-6. The accuracy of such attribution is highly questionable, as water-soluble vitamins such as B-6 (pyridoxine) and vitamin C (ascorbate) have excellent safety records extending back for many decades. The 2003 Toxic Exposures Surveillance System report states that reported deaths are "probably or undoubtedly related to the exposure," an admission of uncertainty in the reporting. (p 340)

Even if true, such events are aberrations. For example, previous American Association of Poison Control Centers' Toxic Exposure Surveillance System reports show zero fatalities from either vitamins C or B-6.


The Journal of the American Medical Association has published the recommendation that every person take a multivitamin daily saying that "(S)uboptimal intake of some vitamins, above levels causing classic vitamin deficiency, is a risk factor for chronic diseases and common in the general population, especially the elderly." (4) It is a sensible idea whose time should have come generations ago.

It is curious that, while theorizing many "potential" dangers of vitamins, critics fail to point out how economical supplements are. For low-income households, taking a two-cent vitamin C tablet and a five-cent multivitamin, readily obtainable from any discount store, is vastly cheaper than getting those vitamins by eating right. The uncomfortable truth is that it is often less expensive to supplement than to buy nutritious food, especially out-of-season fresh produce.

According to David DeRose, M.D., M.P.H., "300,000 Americans die annually from poor nutrition choices." (5) Supplements make any dietary lifestyle, whether good or bad, significantly better. Supplements are an easy, practical entry-level better-nutrition solution for the public, who are more likely to take convenient vitamin tablets than to willingly eat organ meats, wheat germ, and ample vegetables. Scare-stories notwithstanding, taking supplements is not the problem; it is a solution. Malnutrition is the problem.

Public supplementation should be encouraged, not discouraged. Supplements are a cost-effective means of preventing and ameliorating illness. Vitamin safety has been, and remains, extraordinarily high.


1. American Journal of Emergency Medicine, Vol. 22, No. 5, September 2004. (

2. Lucian Leape, Error in medicine. Journal of the American Medical Association, 1994, 272:23, p 1851. Also: Leape LL. Institute of Medicine medical error figures are not exaggerated. JAMA. 2000 Jul 5;284(1):95-7.

3. Dean C and Tuck T. Death by modern medicine. Belleville, ON: Matrix Verite, 2005.

4. Fletcher RH and Fairfield KM. Vitamins for chronic disease prevention in adults: Clinical  applications JAMA. 2002; 287:3127-3129. And: Fairfield KM and Fletcher RH. Vitamins for chronic disease prevention in adults: Scientific review. JAMA. 2002; 287:3116-3126.


What is Orthomolecular Medicine?

Linus Pauling defined orthomolecular medicine as "the treatment of disease by the provision of the optimum molecular environment, especially the optimum concentrations of substances normally present in the human body." Orthomolecular medicine uses safe, effective nutritional therapy to fight illness. For more information:

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Editorial Review Board:

Abram Hoffer, M.D., Ph.D.
Harold D. Foster, Ph.D.
Bradford Weeks, M.D.
Carolyn Dean, M.D. N.D.
Erik Paterson, M.D.
Thomas Levy, M.D., J.D.

Andrew W. Saul, Ph.D., Editor. Email: [email protected]

**enter references