So leading on from my previous infographic about the scale and cost of England's prescriptions in 2011, my next infographic looks at the side effects of these drugs. This infographic has been, to put it mildly, a labour of love. It has taken me well over a month of an hour here and an hour there of conceiving it, drafting it, scrapping it, starting again, tweaking, redesigning..... you get the idea. The complexity came from the fact that I wanted to show the connection between the conditions that are treated/prevented by these drugs, but also the side effects, as there were many conditions that popped up on both lists. Showing a many-to-many relationship is not easy; at first I thought of a venn diagram type thing using body organs instead of circles (yes I like to over-complicate things), then I was thinking of a flow chart, but there were way too many lines, so then I settled on this circle which is the format you see now. I may well do another post showing the stages of this infographic at another time, as it has been a useful learning curve to me that others may find interesting and/or helpful.
Anyway, back to the subject matter at hand. There were a few things in particular that really concerned me about these data. First, as I've sort of mentioned before is that these drugs are primarily prescribed to tackle our most prevalent Western diseases: high cholesterol, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, hypothyroidism, conditions all largely caused by unhealthy lifestyles. To my amateur eye, it seems that many of these drugs are not only papering over the cracks of these conditions, but also they perversely allow patients to continue with their harmful lifestyles (see this article for a very worrying quote from a Omeprazole patient about how she could indulge her love of pastries after suffering with heartburn for many years!!). Second, I was particularly concerned at the sheer number of varied and sometimes gruesome side effects of these prescriptions. Admittedly, some are rare, but on reading some of the descriptions, I am not sure I would want to take such a risk (just Google rhabdomolysis or Stevens-Johnson Syndrome - warning it may turn your stomach!).
To me, it seems the only winners in all this are the food and pharmaceutical industries. As long as we keep spending vast amounts of money on alcohol, sugar, and processed foods (and lots of it), there were always be a pharmaceutical company ready with a magic pill to reduce the effects of consumption of these foods. Its a virtuous circle for them, and a vicious one for us.