‘Death by Medicine’: 780,000+ die yearly

Opinion & Analysis Apr 16, 2004 at 4:52 pm

MY apologies for the delay in writing this column. Other stories had to use my space in the previous issues.

But this time, I’ll have all the space I need because the information I’m about to share with you is stunning, to say the least.

It’s about the medical system in the United States where some practices and errors cause more than 780,000 deaths annually. I mentioned this in this column in our March 1-15, 2004 issue but we’ll go into more detail this time.

The article “Death by Medicine” published in the Life Extension magazine (www.lef.org) and authored by threeAmerican MDs and two PhDs, cited an independent review commissioned by the Nutrition Institute of America of the quality of “government-approved”medicine. The study was in response to the “baseless challenges” to natural medicine (“slanderous media campaigns”) launched by drug-company front groups. Findings from this study indicated that conventional medicine or government-approved medicine is “the leading cause of death” in the United States.

The authors of the article established the authority and credibiity of the study:

“The Nutrition Institute of America is a nonprofit organization that has sponsored independent research for the past 30 years. To support its bold claim that conventional medicine is America’s number one killer, the Nutrition Institute of America mandated that every “count” in this “indictment” of US medicine be validated by published, peer-reviewed scientific studies.”

Let’s go to the specific findings of the study from which I will quote extensively minus the footnotes.
“Each year approximately 2.2 million US hospital patients experience adverse drug reactions (ADRs) to prescribed medications. In 1995, Dr. Richard Besser of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated the number of unnecessary antibiotics prescribed annually for viral infections to be 20 million; in 2003, Dr. Besser spoke in terms of tens of millions of unnecessary antibiotics prescribed annually. Approximately 7.5 million unnecessary medical and surgical procedures are performed annually in the US, while approximately 8.9 million Americans are hospitalized unnecessarily.

“As shown in the following table, the estimated total number of iatrogenic deaths—that is, deaths induced inadvertently by a physician or surgeon or by medical treatment or diagnostic procedures— in the US annually is 783,936. It is evident that the American medical system is itself the leading cause of death and injury in the US. By comparison, approximately 699,697 Americans died of heart disease in 2001, while 553,251 died of cancer.”

Look at the total number of these deaths induced by medical intervention: 783,936! That’s more than three quarters of a million Americans dying every year. And practically no significant cries of protest are being heard to correct this modern-age anomaly.

Let’s put this in the present day perspective. More than 3,000 people were killed in the September 11 terrorist bombings in the U.S. that shocked the world and awakened the recent wave of American patriotism. Not that I’m degrading the value of 3,000 lives lost in 9/11 but that is less than one-tenth of four per cent of the 783,936 lives lost every year in the hands of the American medical system.
Here’s another shocking estimated figure: One million die every year from “medical intervention”.

“Using Leape’s 1997 medical and drug error rate of 3 million multiplied by the 14% fatality rate he used in 1994 produces an annual rate of 420,000 for drug errors and medical errors combined. Using this number instead of Lazarou’s 106,000 drug errors and the Institute of Medicine’s (IOM) estimated 98,000 annual medical errors would add another 216,000 deaths, for a total of 999,936 deaths annually.”

Using the most conservative figures from its statistics, the study projected a 10-year total of 7,841,360 iatrogenic deaths. These more than 7.8 million deaths “is more than all the casualties from all the wars fought by the U.S. throughout its entire history.” Put in this perspective, the picture looks like this: More American human lives were lost in ten years in the medicine “killing fields” than in all the U.S. wars in its more than 200-year history.

These are deeply disturbing statistics but this is U.S. information you may say. That’s true, but is there any significant difference between the Canadian and the U.S. medical practices and professions? Aren’t American giant pharmaceutical drug companies lording it over here in Canada?

Here are some more direct quotes from the Life Extension magazine article:

In a 1994 paper by Dr. Lucian L. Leape, “Error in Medicine” published in the Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA), he found that “in 1964, 20% of hospital patients suffered iatrogenic injury, with a 20% fatality rate; in 1981, 36% of hospitalized patients experienced iatrogenesis with a 25% fatality rate, and adverse drug reactions were in involved in 50% of the injuries; in 1991, 64% of acute heart attacks in one hospital were preventable and were mostly due to adverse drug reactions.”

Medical errors

“Leape acknowledged that the literature on medical errors is sparse and represents only the tip of the iceberg, noting that when errors are specifically sought out, reported rates are “distressingly high.” He cited several autopsy studies with rates as high as 35-40% of missed diagnoses causing death. He also noted that an intensive care unit reported an average of 1.7 errors per day per patient, and 29% of those errors were potentially serious or fatal.”

“In 1995, a JAMA report noted, ‘Over a million patients are injured in US hospitals each year, and approximately 280,000 die annually as a result of these injuries. Therefore, the iatrogenic death rate dwarfs the annual automobile accident mortality rate of 45,000 and accounts for more deaths than all other accidents combined.’”

In 1997 a survey by the National Patient Safety Foundation, which is sponsored by the American Medical Association (AMA), found that more than 100 million Americans have been affected directly or indireclty by a medical mistake. Forty-two percent were affected directly and 84% personally knew of someone who had experienced a medical mistake”

Medication errors

“A survey of a 1992 national pharmacy database found a total of 429,827 medication errors from 1,081 hospitals. Medication errors occurred in 5.22% of patients admitted to these hospitals each year. The authors concluded that at least 90,895 patients annually were harmed by medication errors in the US as a whole.

“A 2002 study shows that 20% of hospital medications for patients had dosage errors. Nearly 40% of these errors were considered potentially harmful to the patient. In a typical 300-patient hospital, the number of errors per day was 40.

“Problems involving patients’ medications were even higher the following year. The error rate intercepted by pharmacists in this study was 24%, making the potential minimum number of patients harmed by prescription drugs 417,908.”

Why are all these simple errors that cause monumental loss of lives happening? Not that all doctors are bad people. It is the fundamental flaws in the medical system that is causing all of these. But more of that in my next column.

Dr. Joel D. Wallach, a 1991 Nobel Prize nominee in Medicine gave this advice for a long and healthy life: 1. Do not do foolish things like excessive drinking, smoking, eating unhealthy foods, and 2. Do not go to your doctor! (Again, check www.lef.org)

Condition Deaths Cost
Adverse Drug Reactions 106,000 $12 billion
Medical errors 98,000 $2 billion
Bedsores 115,000 $55 billion
Infection 88,000 $5 billion
Malnutrition 108,800 ———
Outpatients 199,000 $77 billion
Unnecessary Procedures 37,136 $122 billion
Surgery-Related 32,000 $9 billion
Total 783,936 $282 billion

Table 1: Estimated Annual Mortality and Economic Cost of Medical Intervention