Letter from Prague

Just recently, I read almost identical articles in two prominent Czech magazines about the increased consumption of medicines in the Czech Republic over the past few years. One of them even claimed that Czechs were a nation of pill-addicts. But experts say this is not true - the consumption of medicines is growing from East to West - while we take more pills than people in Russia, we have not yet reached Western European or American levels of consumption. Although doctors in general are against pills being omnipresent - including in our handbags and desk drawers - it's not difficult to get a prescription from your general practitioner or a psychiatrist.

Last year alone, Czechs spent 690 million crowns - around 19 million dollars - on pain killers alone. A nation of ten million, the Czechs purchased 35 million boxes containing from ten to thirty pills each. Every day 25 people in the Czech Republic are taken to hospital because of bleeding in the stomach. Doctors say that in at least 50 percent of cases it's as a result of taking too many pills. Moreover, many people use pills to overcome a hangover, which means our stomachs are being hit twice as hard. Psychiatrists, on the other hand, say many of their patients have developed their addiction to pills for mostly psychological reasons: people just get used to swallowing pills because they make them feel better. When a pill is not within reach, they become nervous. It's mostly women who misuse pain-killers, many of them just as a prevention, so as not to allow a headache to begin at all. Women in general seem to have more problems with pill-addiction than men. It might be because women are more pre-occupied with their bodies than men, they are more sensitive and they also devote much more attention to their health.

One of the above mentioned magazines carried an interview with a young entrepreneur, who managed to do her job only with the help of pills. She told the magazine that before she underwent detoxification, she was taking as many as 40 pills a day. Such people, most of them cured at psychiatric clinic detoxification centres, are only the tip of the iceberg, experts say.

A nation-wide discussion went on some time ago about whether some pills should or should not be available also at petrol stations. I myself am not a driver, but all my colleagues who use a car told me they have never seen a single pill in petrol station shops. So, another battle won by pharmacists. By the way - according to unofficial data - pharmacists are said to be among the best paid people in the Czech population. They are allegedly richer then lawyers and for sure have more money than the country's specialist doctors.