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  • Whitney Joy Dunlap

My View From the Weeds: Reclaiming the Right to Heal Without Big Pharma

Updated: Aug 24

This post was originally published in HWBCO's monthly column, My View from the Weeds, for the Columbus Free Press, July 2019 Issue

Independence Day each year serves as a reminder of the liberties afforded to U.S. citizens and consumers. Yet in 2019, when the word medicine is used the first thing that comes to the mind of many Americans are the pills doctors prescribe for them, available at a pharmacy. The truth is hidden from public view: most modern pharmaceuticals were created by synthesizing phytochemicals from herbs and plants.

The roots of herbal medicine weave throughout history and cultures. Archeologists have found evidence that the use of herbs goes back to the paleolithic era, 60,000 BCE. Sumerian tablets carved into stone and ancient Egyptian texts highlight the use of herbs and plants for medical purposes. In fact, the origin of the word medicine comes from the greek word fármako. Often referred to as the father of herbal medicine Hippocrates declared in ancient Greece, “Let food be thy medicine, and medicine be thy food.” Then how is it that the pharmaceutical industry has convinced the world that they hold the keys to healing the body? Over the years, this industry has grown to amass hundreds of billions of dollars in profits, earning the nickname Big Pharma. Drug Watch estimates that by 2021, Big Pharma’s profits on prescription drugs will reach $610 billion. With a small number of companies at the top of the pyramid, there is little room for competition. Year after year the most powerful Big Pharma companies end up on the Fortune 500 list. It’s clear that the cost of healthcare will continue to rise with the monopolization of vital health products and services. Unfortunately, American citizens currently pay the highest premium for drugs and medical devices than any other country in the industrialized world. A major force influencing public opinion about what constitutes medicine is the amount of money funneled into the lobbying and advertising efforts by Big Pharma. The marketing of medicine has proven so effective that in recent years the pharmaceutical industry spent over $30 billion on advertising. Most pharmaceutical companies spend more money on advertising each year than they do on research. Hundreds of millions are poured into ad campaigns to reach individuals in their homes via television. The U.S. stands out as one of only two countries that allows drug companies to promote themselves directly to individual consumers. On the flipside of that coin are the legal fines that Big Pharma pays each year for misbranding or illegal promotion. The last two decades have seen an increasing number of settlements involving drug companies, costing them anywhere between $300 million to $3 billion. Given the exorbitant profits of Big Pharma it is a small price to pay. Of course, these incidents are rarely highlighted in the media, keeping consumers in the dark about Big Pharma’s profit-driven strategies. Lobbying on Capitol Hill is another creative way that the pharmaceutical industry protects their vested interests.When you combine those maneuvers with fiscal incentives to promote new, up-and-coming drugs by doctors to their patients, then it's clear there is a serious conflict-of-interest at play. Patient protection is jeopardized when a multi-billion dollar industry decides to focus on direct outreach to healthcare professionals. Somewhere along the way capitalism has turned nature’s medicine cabinet into a means of generating massive wealth. Efforts to patent the chemical constituents inside of plants continue every year, as more science on the benefits of alternative medicine comes to light. The last thing that the pharmaceutical industry wants the public to know is that healing power exists right at their fingertips in the form of plant medicine. Naturally, herbalism is an antidote to the greed and profit-driven goals of Big Pharma.  In order to shift the paradigm, the masses need to recognize the system is broken and try something different. Treating the body with accessible and affordable natural remedies is the heart of healthcare justice. Reclaiming the human birthright to grow, harvest and heal from plants is what makes herbalism the people’s medicine. Herbalists are stewards of the earth and torch bearers for the bright light of plant healers. Attending a meeting for the Central Ohio Chapter of Herbalists Without Borders is a great way to learn more about the current challenges within our healthcare system, connect with other like-minded community members and take back the power of plants.

Appears in Issue:  July 2019 issue

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We are the Central Ohio chapter of the international non-profit, Herbalists Without Borders. We work to make people's medicine (herbalism) and food justice accessible to all. 

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