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Int J Health Serv. 1977;7(1):37-62.

Increased prescribing of Valium, Librium, and other drugs--an example of the influence of economic and social factors on the practice of medicine.


Drug prescriptions per capita in the United States have more than doubled since 1950 without a commensurate improvement in health. Drugs are often prescribed for clinical conditions in which therapeutic benefits do not outweigh the risk of adverse drug reactions. Deaths due to adverse drug reactions are roughly as frequent as deaths due to automobile accidents. Valium and Librium are the first and fourth most commonly prescribed drugs in the U.S., used by one ten adults each year. The rapid rise in use of these drugs has occurred during a period of rising social stress, as indicated by increases in alcohol consumption, suicide, and homicide, Valium and Librium are frequently prescribe for patients who go to doctors with social or other nonmedical problems, often in lieu of attempts to resolve these underlying problems. Overprescribing occurs because the decision to prescribe is influenced not only by consideration of therapeutic benefit, but also by nonmedical factors, for example the widespread expectation by both patient and doctor that the doctor will provide a drug or some other technological treatment. Prescribing decisions are also influenced by the profit-motivated activities of drug companies, including the expenditure of almost one-quarter of every sales dollar on drug promotion. The most widely used source of drug information for doctors is the industry-sponsored Physicians' Desk Reference, which overrates the therapeutic value of Valium and Librium as compared to disinterested medical sources. Drug companies also contribute to overprescribing by introducing numerous minor variants of existing drugs. The therapeutic benefits of such new drugs are often overestimated in the early years of use when adverse side effects are not well known and apparent efficacy is enhanced by placebo effects in uncontrolled observations.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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