Over-prescribing is on the rise
Typically defined as taking five or more medications at the same time, over-prescribing or polypharmacy has become a big problem, particularly among older adults. “There are many factors contributing to the high rates of polypharmacy we’re seeing, including patients living longer, more medicines coming on the market, and our fragmented health system, where care is often uncoordinated,” says Caleb Alexander, MD, co-director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Drug Safety and Effectiveness. “Prescription medicines serve an invaluable role in the treatment of many diseases, but millions of Americans are on medicines they may no longer need.” In fact a 2015 survey by Harvard researchers found that 39 percent of adults over 65 take five or more medications, which is a 70 percent increase over a 12-year period. “It’s stunning how much more of this I’m seeing,” says Gary L. LeRoy, MD, a family physician in Dayton, Ohio, and a member of the board of the American Academy of Family Physicians. “I think electronic health records are helping us realize more patients are falling into polypharmacy, because instead of handwritten charts we can now electronically follow people’s prescriptions.” Check out these 10 signs that you’re taking too many prescriptions.
Don’t forget vitamins and OTC meds
Over-prescribing is known as polypharmacy because it doesn’t just involve prescriptions; over-the-counter drugs and supplements also contribute to the danger. “Back when I was a med student, Prilosec could only be prescribed by gastroenterologists; today you can buy it yourself. We now have many medications you can buy off the shelf that aren’t exactly harmless,” says Dr. LeRoy. “Even if it’s natural or herbal, it may have an ingredient that could adversely interact with a prescription.” In fact, the vast majority of older adults taking prescriptions are also using over-the-counter treatments, says Dr. Alexander, who co-authored a 2016 study on the subject in JAMA Internal Medicine. “In this paper we found that 15 percent of older adults were at risk for a major drug-to-drug interactions because of the combination of prescription medicines with over-the-counter medicines and dietary supplements,” he says. The types of non-prescription pills found to lead to troubles included omega-3 fish oil, aspirin, potassium, and garlic. Check out these 10 OTC medications that you’re using all wrong––you might be surprised.