Harvard Health Letter

The principles of conservative prescribing

No matter what your politics, a conservative approach to medications is a good idea.

The old, jokey line was "take two aspirins and call me in the morning." But, of course, doctors prescribe a lot more than just aspirin these days. The medicine cabinet is crammed full: cholesterol-lowering statins, stomach acid–reducing proton-pump inhibitors, antidepressants, asthma drugs, diabetes drugs, sleeping pills, hormones. The amount of money that Americans spent on prescription drugs tripled between 1997 and 2007, although growth in our collective "pill bill" has slowed for many reasons (see sidebar).

People who genuinely need medications should take them; indeed, getting people to take medications as prescribed is a persistent problem. But there's some questioning of prescribing practices these days, much of it inspired by a growing conviction that American health care has become too dependent on expensive medications.

To continue reading this article, you must login.
  • Research health conditions
  • Check your symptoms
  • Prepare for a doctor's visit or test
  • Find the best treatments and procedures for you
  • Explore options for better nutrition and exercise
Learn more about the many benefits and features of joining Harvard Health Online »