The following is a weekly 60 Minutes commentary by CBS News correspondent.
Most of us have something in our bathroom called "the medicine cabinet." We keep all sorts of pills in it that we don't take. If you looked in our medicine cabinets, you'd think we were sick all the time but pills often just sit there for years.
About all most of us take is an occasional aspirin. Aspirin's an amazing story. A long while ago someone discovered that the bark of the willow tree had stuff in it called acetylsalicylic acid and it helped with the pain of things like headaches.
In Germany, Bayer made a pill out of it and called it "aspirin." During World War I we were at war with Germany and we took aspirin away from Bayer. Bayer must have been plenty sore but aspirin is a generic name now and Bayer is still the biggest-selling brand.
I wish the names for all pills were as simple as aspirin. I think the drug companies like their medicines to have important-sounding names so they can charge us too much for them. You know, "Ibuprofen."
Prescription drug sales in the United States were $250 billion last year. Here are the ones that sold the most:
Lipitor. Thirteen million people spent $7.8 billion on Lipitor. I hope they feel better. Then there's Zocor, Prevacid, Nexium, Celebrex, Norvasc, Advair, Paxil, Allegra and Zoloft.
There are others though: Tiazac, Amoxicillin, Cyclobenzaprine, Cozaar, Naproxen. You notice most of them have either a "z" or an "x" in their made up name.
Sometimes the directions on pill bottles are fuzzy. "Take one tablet three times a day." Well, how do you take one tablet three times?
"Take one tablet by mouth three times a day". Well, thanks for telling me. I was about to stick it in my ear.
Another label says "Swallow whole. Do not crush or chew." I wonder what it would do to you if you chewed one of these?
Next to aspirin the best drug in my medicine cabinet is one I take all the time. If I have indigestion I take a Tum. Now there's a good name for a pill, Tum. Simple, direct, and not an X or a Z in it.
If none of us ever took another pill, I wonder if we'd die any younger?
By Andy Rooney
Copyright 2006 CBS. All rights reserved.