America’s Other Drug Problem: Too Many Prescriptions for Elderly

The headline above comes from an article published on September 4, 2016, in the Los Angeles Daily News. The article was originally produced on August 30, 2016, by Kaiser Health News, and highlights the over usage of prescription medication on seniors.

The article begins with observations by Dominick Bailey, a clinical pharmacist specializing in geriatric care at UCLA Medical Center in Santa Monica, California. In performing his job of reviewing medication that the patients are taking, he noted several medications for elderly patients that were contraindicated and could cause harm. One 74-year-old patient, who had a history of multiple health problems, was on 36 different medications. Bailey’s reactions was, “This is actually a little bit alarming.”

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

The article reports that, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the elderly account for about 35 percent of hospital stays. However, they note that over half experience drug-related complications causing hospital stays to be extended by an average of about three days.

One of the issues pointed out in the article is that many medications are being given to the elderly with no time line to ever consider discontinuing them. “There’s a tendency in medicine every time we start a medicine to never stop it,” stated Dr. Ken Covinsky, University of California, San Francisco researcher and physician.

One of Bailey’s responsibilities at the UCLA Medical Center is to reduce the number of medications the elderly are taking. He also explains his concepts to other pharmacists and young interns at his center. In one such exchange, he explained that there is a fundamental difference on how drugs affect older people, “As you know, our elderly are already at risk for an accumulation of drugs in their body,” he told the group. “If you put a drug that has a really long half-life, it is going to last even longer in our elderly.”

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, among older Americans (aged 60 and over), more than 76% used two or more prescription drugs, and 37% used five or more.

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