The American Chiropractic Association’s Improper Attack on Prescription Drug Use

Stephen Barrett, M.D.
July 31, 2020

In 1985, the American Chiropractic Association released a Speaking and Personal Betterment Guide that was written by its public relations consultant, Irvin Davis. An ad in the October 1985 issue of the ACA’s Journal of Chiropractic promised that the book would enable chiropractors to speak authoritatively and “use the speaker’s platform and radio and television as a practice-builder.” One section, which contained proposed speech ideas, included a 10-minute talk titled “Beware of All Drugs and Medications.”

The logical way to evaluate any treatment is to compare the likely benefits against the likely risks. But the ACA’s suggested speech ignored the benefits and exaggerated the risks of appropriately prescribed medications. At the end it even warned: “The best thing you can do for your health is to beware of all of them.” Here is the full text of this speech followed by my reactions:

Beware of All Drugs and Medications

 Where does one draw the line in determining what is a “good drug” and what is a “bad drug”? ls it based on legal implications? Moral determinations? Or, is the most important factor its effect on health? The American public shows great concern over the use of the extreme drugs. Heroin, LSD, Acid, Speed—these are the worry of every parent, and are labeled “bad” because these escape drugs have captured a small percentage of our young generation.

While no reasonable person would condone the use of these deadly and illegal drugs, it is interesting to note that society—and parents in particular—do not seem to be concerned with the thousands of other drugs and medications that are widely prescribed and used.

We forbid our children to use LSD to escape mental reality; yet, on the other hand, we constantly push pills down the throats of these youngsters to escape physical reality. Aspirin, painkillers, and antibiotics are some of the most commonly used drugs, but there are more than 7,000 on the market under various brand names. How can we label one set of harmful drugs as “bad,” and at the same time accept another, much larger set of harmful drugs as “good”?

Iatrogenic, or drug-caused diseases are becoming a national health problem of critical proportions because of the overuse of medicines in our modem society.

There is a trend toward what might appear to be the easy way of treatment—seeking an escape or cover-up for the symptoms of the problem, rather than curing the condition itself.

Medical doctors prescribe drugs recklessly; patients take them recklessly; and too little is known about the final effects of drugs by medical doctors, patients or manufacturers.

If you think that our major concern is the extreme, illegal drugs, the following enlightening facts should be noted about medications found on shelves in most every home:

  1. An estimated one million patients are admitted to hospitals in the United States each year because of drug-induced illnesses.
  2. An estimated 100,000 Americans die each year from drug-contributing illnesses.
  3. 90 percent of drugs and medications are used unnecessarily.
  4. Many drugs have not been adequately tested on human beings prior to release.
  5. Painkilling drugs eliminate or dull the symptoms, but do nothing to eliminate the cause of the pain.
  6. Many drugs are habit-forming, thereby requiring greater and greater dosages for effectiveness.
  7. Many drugs give harmful side effects and can be fatal, especially when used in combination with others.

Although the intent of drug use is for the welfare of the patient, reckless or uninformed prescribing by the medical doctor … or negligence by the patient himself … all too often results in drug-induced illnesses. In many cases, drug reactions have been far more serious than the original health problem. And in too many cases they have been fatal.

It is absolutely essential to health that we neither overuse nor misuse nor become dependent on medicines. The risk is far too great—and the positive results are far too few.

Drug abuse was never more prevalent than it is today. It is interesting to note that since its inception, the chiropractic profession has recognized the danger of drugs and the benefits of natural health care. Chiropractic is a profession that does not use drugs for treatment. In fact, it has loudly voiced its opposition to the use of drugs and medications.

Perhaps you will ask, “Why?”

For numerous reasons—one of the most important of which is the fact that the body has perfect recuperative abilities within itself. The introduction of strong foreign chemical substances has a tendency to upset the natural processes of the body. Drugs often hinder the restoration of normal body functions.

The chiropractic profession recognizes that pain and discomfort serve an important role: They are warning signals of impending danger. They are the symptoms which signal the existence of a health problem. To dull these symptoms, or to eliminate them, does not cure the problem; it merely obscures the problem from the victim and from his physician.

Chiropractic is a realistic and practical health method. It recognizes that the human being cannot exist on pills and medications. He must establish a healthy mental and physical attitude and maintain his health through natural means—which includes a well-balanced diet, regular exercise and spinal care on a periodic basis.

Next time you get ready to pop a pill in your mouth—whatever the reason—be it to relax, to relieve tension, to put you to sleep or to do away with the sniffles, ask yourself: “ls it really worth it?” ls it worthwhile taking the risk of harmful side effects? Consider the accumulative effect. Consider the possibility that you may be covering up the symptoms of a health problem that should be treated . . . perhaps allowing it to get worse.

Ask yourself whether you care so little about your life that you are willing to become dependent on drugs. I hope you will decide, as I have, that it is not worth the risk. Drugs are drugs … whether they be legal or illegal. And the best thing you can do for your health and well-being is beware of all of them.

The above script was originally offered to ACA members in 1971 as part of an elaborately planned public relations campaign with the theme “Don’t Be a Pill Popper,” which included two billboard posters:

Associated “Pill Popper” radio and TV spots asked whether America was becoming “a land of strong pills . . . and weak people.”

The PR materials also included a patient-education pamphlet titled Beware of Overuse of Drugs that had a similar message. It listed more than 100 side effects of commonly prescribed drugs, presented the seven alleged “facts” listed above, and concluded with this statement:

Your doctor of chiropractic employs no dangerous painkillers to lull pain to sleep while body damage continues. He does not use sedatives to give you a false sense of security. He uses no drugs whatsoever in, his treatment, thus avoiding drug-induced illnesses and dangerous side effects often more serious than the condition being treated. His methods are scientifically aimed directly at the cause of the illness; his treatment aids in restoring your body to its normal function.

My Reactions

The speech was aimed to undermine trust of medical treatment and to persuade people to try chiropractic instead. Almost all statements it contained were either false or misleading.

The assertion that “prescribed drugs merely cover up symptoms rather than curing the condition” is potentially quite dangerous as well as false. Countless millions of people with chronic conditions are helped by drugs that can control their symptoms or even keep them from dying. Hormones can replace hormones that the body can not longer supply—as is done in treating Type I diabetes, hypothyroidism, and several other hormonal deficiency diseases. Other drugs can increase or decrease various body functions by blocking or enhancing metabolic pathways as is done in treating abnormal blood pressure. Many infections are cured by an antibiotic that kills the causative organism. Many cancer drugs work by killing cells that are functioning abnormally. Vaccines prevent disease by generating antibodies that kill invading germs, And so on.

The statement that many drugs are habit-forming is misleading. Only a few classes of drugs that affect the central nervous system are habit-forming. As with all drugs, their prescription should be based on whether the expected benefits exceeds the possible risks. The ability to determine this requires many years of medical training and experience. Chiropractic schools do not provide this.

The statement that medical doctors prescribe drugs recklessly is a vast overgeneralization.

The pamphlet’s discussion of adverse effects fails to mention that the drugs it discusses are usually beneficial and in many cases are life-saving. Suggesting that people worry every time they are about to take a pill is unconscionable.

The claims that chiropractic treatment addresses the cause of disease are simply false. The legitimate scope of chiropractic is very narrow.

People who seek “alternative” treatment to avoid taking drugs have a high probability of being misdiagnosed, financially exploited, and suffering needlessly from problems that could have been managed with proper medical care. Over the years, I have talked with hundreds of them.

The drug marketplace does have problems. But the best way to avoid them is not to avoid all drugs but to use the services of doctors who can sort out the facts and determine which treatments would be best for their patients. Chiropractic bad-mouthing can safely be ignored.