Magic pills? Consumers Say “No, Thank You”

Are social media conversations hinting at a movement against prescription drugs?

These days prescription drugs keep the doctor away more than apples.
The U.S. healthcare industry finds itself at crossroads as insurance costs soar, population ages, and chronic conditions become more common. As the healthcare policy in the country takes the center stage for debate,the situation does not seem to be getting any better for consumers.
Consumers find themselves beset by medical quandaries like what method to use to treat a condition, where to get care, what can be done to improve the quality of care etc. The situation is even more grave for the 26 million uninsured Americans who have to pay more for generic drugs than their counterparts anywhere in the world where overprescription of drugs by doctors is also rampant. 

It’s no wonder then that people are turning away from prescription drugs and towards alternative forms of treatment like natural remedies, yoga and diet. When we looked at social media posts from Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, blogs, and forums, written in English in the U.S. from 2010-2016, we are able to unearth consumers’ crucial pain points around the healthcare process and found that type of care and treatment is a top concern for consumers.
In this post, we look at the discussion around prescription drugs and why consumers are dissuaded from it by highlighting:

  • The conversation around the need for alternatives
  • Consumer sentiment on prescription drugs
  • Reasons why consumers shun prescription drugs

Magic pills? No, thank you

A  litmus test for a good healthcare system is looking at how patients are treated. Prescription drugs are not the only option for ailments anymore — there is a litany of methods patients can turn to. In the conversation on how to treat medical conditions, prominent types of treatment that emerged were diet, natural remedies, drugs/prescriptions, exercise, meditation/yoga, and cannabis.

Social media data reveals that the conversation around healthcare is changing — it is becoming more varied. From 2010 to 2016, discussion about treatment preferences changed — In 2010, diet and natural remedies were equally popular, with 32 percent share of voice. Drugs/prescriptions had 19 percent share of voice, while exercise had 13 percent share of voice. Cannabis and meditation/yoga were the least talked-about solutions for treating conditions, each with 2 percent share of voice.
In 2015, the outlook started to change for cannabis and meditation/yoga, growing to 3 percent and 18 percent share of voice, respectively. Dieting as a form of treatment had reached its peak popularity in 2013, when its share of voice reached 42 percent. It’s popularity started slipping towards 2015.
Drugs/prescriptions have been the most common method for treating ailments, and while they are the third most popular way to obtain treatment, that doesn’t necessarily mean they also yield the best results in the eyes of consumers, who are wary and more cautious of their negative side effects.
People’s frustration with taking pills leads them to discuss alternative treatment methods including acupuncture, massage therapy, and ingesting herbs. As people become more wary about how effective or safe drugs/prescriptions are, they return to more natural forms of care that they deem less destructive.
People discuss how it is possible to treat some diseases through exercise, saying how they’ve managed Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) symptoms with a combination of healthy dieting and frequent exercise. According to some, yoga helps improve skin and can help with Huntington’s Disease, a condition in which nerve cells in the brain break down over time. For Huntington’s Disease, yoga is discussed as a helpful supplement for Target Therapy, targeting RNA and DNA. Cannabis is discussed as a preventative measure for brain diseases like Alzheimer’s and dementia, Lyme disease, PTSD symptoms, and spasticity issues with multiple sclerosis.

The bitter pill, indeed

We can better understand why people are keeping pills at bay by looking at how they feel about taking them.

When we analyzed audience sentiment towards different healthcare treatments, we found that prescription drugs are viewed most negatively (55%) —  driven by erroneous diagnoses, strange side effects, or not enough value for the cost.
Exercise also had a high proportion of negative sentiment, at 50 percent explained by exhaustion or concerns over muscle wasting. However, exercise had 9 percent more positive sentiment compared to drugs/prescription.
The sentiment chart tells us more about people’s rising curiosity about alternative care methods. Cannabis had 44 percent negative sentiment and 24 percent positive sentiment, increasingly gaining acceptance as an effective, natural treatment. For natural remedies, sentiment was 37 percent negative and 24 percent positive. While negativity can be attributed to people debunking natural remedies like holistic healing as dubious or unscientific, positivity is driven by people lauding its effectiveness. People praised natural remedies for helping them heal without resorting to drugs, which can have negative side effects. Meditation/yoga had 9 percent negative sentiment and 15 percent positive sentiment.
As we know about how consumers feel about different kinds of treatment, can we identify the audience themselves?

Overall, the healthcare treatment preferences discussion is male-dominated, with every topic except exercise skewing male.
However, some topics are more male-dominated than others. The conversation around drug prescriptions is the most heavily male, with 59 percent male and 41 percent female. Of all the different ways to treat health conditions, drugs/prescriptions receives the highest proportion of discussion from those who are 35 and above (60%). Drugs/prescriptions also drew the lowest conversation levels from a younger population, with only 26 percent of the conversation coming from those below 25.

In the U.S. nearly one-third of the population — 100 million people — suffer from chronic pain, according to the American Academy of Pain Medicine. Naturally, the drugs that manage the pain are a big business, totaling $24 billion in the U.S. alone.

In this profit-driven industry, overprescription also becomes a persistent problem. The Center for Disease Control estimates that as much as one-half of antibiotic use in humans is either unnecessary or inappropriate. And an estimated 47 million unnecessary antibiotic prescriptions are handed out in the United States each year.


The movement against prescription drugs is not completely unfounded. People’s search for alternatives begins with the belief that they work. As social media conversations attest, the audience is out there looking for them. Are the interested parties listening?

For more healthcare insights, download the full report here.

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