America’s Other Drug Problem

“Amerca’s other drug problem.” That’s the title of a new report just released by Kaiser Health News that looks at whether seniors in our country are overmedicated.

From the Kaiser report:

An increasing number of elderly patients nationwide are on multiple medications to treat chronic diseases, raising their chances of dangerous drug interactions and serious side effects. Often the drugs are prescribed by different specialists who don’t communicate with each other. If those patients are hospitalized, doctors making the rounds add to the list — and some of the drugs they prescribe may be unnecessary or unsuitable.

“This is America’s other drug problem — polypharmacy,” said Dr. Maristela Garcia, director of the inpatient geriatric unit at UCLA Medical Center in Santa Monica. “And the problem is huge.”

According to a story on the National Public Radio (NPR) website, “University of California, San Francisco researcher and physician Ken Covinsky, said many doctors who prescribe drugs in hospitals don’t consider how long those medications might be needed. “There’s a tendency in medicine every time we start a medicine to never stop it,” Covinsky said.”

Earlier this year, the Arizona Daily Star focused on this very issue. The story offered tips, from the American Geriatrics Society, to avoid overmedicating.

  • Check with your doctor or pharmacist about possible interactions before taking an over-the-counter (OTC) medication.
  • Make a list: Compile and keep updated a list of all the medications you take.
  • Review: Once or twice a year ask your primary care health care provider to review your list of medications, vitamins and supplements.
  • Ask questions: Whenever you are prescribed a new medication or your dosage is changed, ask why.
  • Organize: Consider using a weekly medication organizer. A pill box can help.
  • Follow directions: Take your medications exactly as directed by your health care providers.
  • Report problems: If a new health problem begins after starting a new medication, you may be having a reaction to the medication.
  • Medication don’ts: Don’t take medication that is not prescribed to you; don’t use medication that past its expiration date; don’t stop taking medications just because you feel better; and don’t drink alcohol when you take medication for sleep, pain, anxiety or depression.

In Canada, a CBC story issued a similar warning about overmedicating seniors claiming, “nearly two-thirds of senior citizens in Canada were taking five or more prescription drugs…and health advocates are calling for the number of prescriptions used by Canadian seniors to be cut in half by 2020.”

Arizona has a robust and vital senior population, so this is an important issue in our state. Share your thoughts on how we can make sure our seniors get the medications they need without the fear of being overmedicated. Working together to find solutions to the health issues facing our state is another way we are working toward our goal of making Arizona the Healthiest State in the Nation!

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