Health

A Pill For Every Ill: The Depressing Reality Behind How Modern Medicine Was Born

By Andrea Mew
·  9 min read
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There’s a reason why the saying goes “a patient cured is a customer lost.”

When you’ve got yet another splitting headache, what do you do? You might reach for a bottle of aspirin and pop a couple pills, hoping that in 20 or so minutes, the pain will subside, as most people think to do. Or, you might drink a glass of water, try a cold compress, get a bit of physical exercise, take a nap, or steer clear of ingredients that commonly trigger migraines. One method places dependency on something or someone other than you to have a positive result while the other method gives you a sense of agency over your outcome. Such is the difference between allopathic or modern medicine and homeopathic or naturopathic medicine.

Not too long ago in the grand scheme of things, natural methods for remedies and cures were the norm, but one machiavellian man spearheaded an entire industry that wrote off natural techniques as quackery and turned ailments into advantage. You’ve heard of John D. Rockefeller’s involvement in transforming the oil industry, but have you ever heard of how that petroleum product was used to create our new cures?

You Can Thank Big Oil for the Pills You Pop

Let’s travel back in time to the early 19th century when a man named William Avery Rockefeller traveled around rural New York selling cures for cancer. Considered one of the world’s most bonafide “snake oil salesmen,” Rockefeller developed what he thought was a tonic to cure cancer (despite having no background as a doctor), which he called “Rock Oil,” made of laxatives and petroleum. William Rockefeller’s fascination with petroleum was passed down to his son, John D. Rockefeller, who founded Standard Oil and went down in history as the first billionaire. 

Amassing a global oil empire, Rockefeller owned 90% of all refineries by age 40, and as the 1800s began to come to a close, he also had control over one-third of the world’s oil wells and was the kingpin of 90% of oil marketing. He must’ve desired for his domain to reach even further, because after he pumped money into establishing the University of Chicago and the General Education Board, Rockefeller turned his attention to medicine.

You see, at the time, most Americans relied on naturopathic and homeopathic remedies and cures for their ailments. A significant portion of medical colleges practiced holistic medicine techniques from both Native American and European traditions. There’s no patenting natural cures; however, if someone were to manipulate the vast wealth of product they own to create synthetic drugs, well, those could be patented and made profitable. So Rockefeller’s petrochemical pharmaceuticals transformed the medical industry with the establishment of the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research in 1901.

A monopoly can’t exist with competition in the way, so Rockefeller made some other keen moves. He purchased a portion of a drug manufacturing company called IG Farben – which, interestingly enough, was responsible for Auschwitz, the largest mass extermination camp in human history during WWII where the company murdered thousands through human experiments, vaccines, and drug testing – but private industry simply wasn’t enough. To make his mark in the public sector, Rockefeller hired a contractor in 1910 to submit a report to Congress which deemed natural medicine a total hoax and called to reduce the number of existing doctors and medical schools. From that, America decided to standardize the medical education process and transfer all power to the American Medical Association (AMA) to decide who can and can’t have medical licenses.

Medical schools could only receive Rockefeller grants if they denounced natural medicine and diet as treatments.

In tandem with Andrew Carnegie, Rockefeller pumped funding into medical schools that followed the rules he brought into law. Schools could only receive these grants if they denounced natural medicine and diet as treatments. As a result, all medical education revolved around the prescription of patented, petrochemical drugs. As the saying goes, you get “a pill for an ill.”

Petroleum Pills Have Their Pros…and Cons

You may be wondering what it even means for medicine to be made out of petroleum. I don’t blame you, it’s kind of hard to think about the thing that you put in your car to make it go and then think about how that same product could ease your splitting headache. Yet, it can. Take aspirin, for example, one of the most common over-the-counter painkillers. Its main ingredient is called acetylsalicylic acid, which is made from the chemical reaction between three petrochemicals: cumene, phenol, and benzene. 

Aspirin isn’t the only one, though, as most OTC and prescription-strength drugs are made possible thanks to petrochemicals, whether that’s a cough syrup, an antibacterial, an antihistamine, a suppository, an ointment, a salve, or an analgesic. Even antibiotics like penicillin, which most people associate with natural fungi, use phenol and cumene (two petrochemicals) in their production. Don’t forget that most coatings and pill capsules in general are based in polymers, a.k.a. petrochemicals. See, if we didn’t have the petrochemicals that Rockefeller trademarked and patented, modern medicine simply wouldn’t exist.

While modern medicine is certainly a lifesaver in many different circumstances and we can’t totally discount how important the development of effective medicine and treatments are to countless ailments from chronic pain to cancer, many OTC and prescription pharmaceuticals just mask symptoms instead of addressing the root cause. For people who have little drive to address their own root causes of pain – like perhaps an obese person who is struggling with heartburn as a result of their weight who chooses to take Prilosec instead of adjusting their diet and losing weight – drugs prolong problems and leave the user dependent on their regular dosage.

The Rockefeller Foundation created the Chinese Medical Board to modernize China’s traditional medical education.

Homeopathy or natural medicines coupled with lifestyle and dietary changes used to be the standard before the allopathic system took over American medicine. Interestingly enough, Rockefeller saw his model for Western Medicine working wonders for his profit margin here in the States and tried to expand into other countries which have rich histories of traditional medicine, like China. The Rockefeller Foundation created and endowed the Chinese Medical Board (CMB) in the late 1920s with a $12 million grant, and eventually the CMB became the foundation’s largest-ever financed project. While it now operates in many different Asian nations, the CMB was created specifically to modernize China’s medical education and transform how the Chinese practice medicine. 

Now, America actually relies on China for its supply of pharmaceuticals, whether they’re over-the-counter or prescription strength. Per year, China produces around 120 billion tablets of aspirin and Americans collectively consume 34 billion of those little pills. Low-dose aspirin is used as a preventative measure by 29 million Americans at the very least for cardiovascular conditions, since cardiovascular disease accounts for over 25% of deaths in the United States, but do you know what’s more effective at preventing heart disease? Lifestyle changes such as increased physical activity, maintaining a healthy weight, and eating right. Cardiovascular disease can be reduced by 80% by proper lifestyle changes, but living a more wholesome, independent life isn’t as profitable.

Perhaps Big Pharma Isn’t Keeping Our Best Interests at Heart

I’ve written in the past about how Big Pharma genuinely does reward physicians for prescribing their pills and products, but let’s not forget that the pharmaceutical powerhouses give huge sums of money to medical schools that, in turn, prescribe the drugs. We call this industry healthcare when it really should just be considered sickcare. How is it that we’re at the top of our game in healthcare research, and yet 71.6% of adults are overweight and almost 40% are obese? 

It’s so bad that over 1/3 of all Americans are considered pre-diabetic. One big mistake leads to the next, which is how 1.7 million Americans end up dying from chronic illness every year (that’s 7 out of 10 deaths yearly). The chart-topping causes of death like heart disease kill 500,000 American women each year, which is almost twice as many women who die from female-specific cancers. So why are we inundated with pink ribbon marketing campaigns when we should be raising awareness over these hush-hush killers? 

Prescription drug dependency is the fastest-growing drug problem in America.

Perhaps it’s because prescription drug dependency is the fastest-growing drug problem in America, with over 16 million Americans abusing them and two million of those abusers becoming physically addicted to them. Since 82% of all pharmacy-filled prescription drugs are opioids, it’s no wonder that opioid addiction is on the rise. But Americans don’t only look to the pharmacy for their narcotics, they also get it cheap from drug dealers who peddle things like fentanyl, an extra potent opioid that was developed to ease cancer patients’ pain. Now, overdose deaths from substances like fentanyl have surpassed both common painkiller deaths and heroin-related deaths in America. It’s gotten so bad that communities across the nation are adopting vending machines that dispense Narcan, the nasal spray which counters fentanyl overdoses.

Some of those vending machines even have snacks, socks, and condoms in them, but I guess that’s a different beast to tackle at a later time. What’s more notable is the case of one small town in Kentucky with only 7,000 residents which has had to have its Narcan vending machine restocked seven times in just a single month.

Closing Thoughts

Again, I can’t discount the number of lives saved by modern medicine or even the smaller, pesky problems that prescriptions have helped cure for Americans nationwide. But is it not just a little bit strange that despite pharmaceutical consumption rising, health outcomes overall aren’t improving? It makes me wonder if the Rockefeller model, which fundamentally changed how our country’s medical industry operated and eliminated natural medicine, is doing us justice or making us all junkies.

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