A cure for all ills?

Are we looking for simple answers to complex questions in the shape of a pill?

Life starts with an injection of vitamin K and a bunch of immunisations. Sooner or later, it’s antibiotics and painkillers. On average, each person in Britain is prescribed more than 14,000 pills during his or her lifetime. From acne and asthma to diabetes and depression, there seems to be a solution for every problem in the form of a pill.

Everyone wants to feel good and live to a ripe old age. Yet illness, sorrow and need are an inevitable part of human existence. Should we quickly jump in to rectify every trouble with a pill? Are we being lured by the illusion of a quick fix?

There is growing concern that individuals seek a medicinal cure when prevention would work better. To tackle obesity, surgery and pills should be a last resort, not a short cut. Are we looking to (literally) have our cake and eat it?

There may be alternatives. For some depressed patients, exercise may work better than drugs. Give badly behaved children occupational therapy rather than drugs, some experts urge. Medicine may not always provide the best solution. It has now become commonplace for doctors not only to prescribe medicines but also to suggest lifestyle changes for a whole host of different patient issues.

Pharmaceuticals have transformed our existence for the better, no doubt about it. But when pills are peddled as an answer to complex social issues, and when people start to turn to little bottles rather than embrace a healthy lifestyle – perhaps it’s time for a rethink.

About this resource

This resource was first published in ‘Drug Development’ in January 2008 and reviewed and updated in August 2014.

Drug Development
Education levels:
16–19, Continuing professional development