Elderly Endangered by Drug MixingDec 26, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP
The older population is more susceptible to the dangers of drug mixing than other groups, according to a recent survey. USA Today reports that one in 25 older Americans—about 2.2 million people—are at risk for serious health problems that include bleeding and muscle weakness because they take dangerous drug combinations that in about 50 percent of the cases include nonprescription medications (over-the-counter or OTC) and supplements. The researchers work appears in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
"Some may assume that, just because a drug is available without a prescription, it's safe," lead author Dima Qato told USA Today. According to the report, Qato is a pharmacist at the University of Chicago, who, along with her team, based the findings on a nationally representative sample surveying Americans aged 57 to 85.
To reach the study's conclusions, trained interviewers visited participants’ homes and looked at all medicines—prescription and OTC—and supplements used daily or weekly, said USA Today. The team learned that about 30 percent took at least five prescription drugs regularly, an increase in the past 10 years; 40 percent used at least one OTC; and 50 percent, a supplement, said USA Today. The most common prescription and OTC use involved medications such as aspirin, blood thinners, and statins to treat heart disease and the most common supplements included single vitamins, multi-vitamins, and minerals said USA Today. Alternative therapies included omega-3 fatty acids and garlic for heart health, glucosamine-chondroitin for arthritis, and vitamins to target macular degeneration, said USA Today.
USA Today said Qato noted that the survey’s findings might affect how experts view the issue of health and older Americans. "Everyone has to do what they can to improve safety in older adults," Quato said.
Geriatrician Robert McCann, professor of medicine at the University of Rochester and chief of medicine at Highland Hospital, also explained to USA Today that instead of adding a mediation to treat a side effect from another medication, he stops “medicines as a therapeutic maneuver," . Likewise, Amy Ehrlich, head of the geriatrics fellowship program at New York's Montefiore Medical Center, will have patients bring in all their medicines, because patients are often treated by more than one physician, adding that interaction problems occur, “every single day … with every single patient," according to USA Today.
Science Daily said that while the number of older people taking medications has not risen in the past ten years, the number of drugs—five or more—has risen significantly, perhaps due to more concentrated chronic illness therapy, better drug access, and an increase in generics.
"Older adults are the largest consumer of prescription drugs," said study co-author Stacy Tessler Lindau, MD, assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology and of medicine at the University of Chicago Medical Center. " We find that they commonly combine these prescription medications with over-the-counter medications and dietary supplements, which can increase their vulnerability to medication side-effects and drug-drug interactions."
Health News notes that half of such interactions involve bleeding problems and Reuters said that such combinations could be fatal. Lindau pointed out that Americans over 65 account for more than 175,000 emergency department visits annually for adverse reactions with commonly prescribed drugs making up about one-third of the visits, said Reuters.