The headline above comes from a March 21, 2016, Reuters news story published in response to a pre-released study on this subject published in the April 2016 issue of JAMA Internal Medicine. This article, and several others on this same subject, reported on the growing usage of medication by the increasing elderly population.
The study showed that 87.7% of the population 62 to 85 years old used at least one prescription medication in 2010-2011. This was up from 84.1% in 2005-2006. Even more alarming was that the study showed that people using five or more prescription medications increased from 30.6% to 35.8% in the same five year period.
The Reuters article begins by noting that people using multiple medications, known as polypharmacy, was associated with an increase in major drug interactions in older Americans. Dr. Dima M. Qato, the study’s lead author from the University of Illinois at Chicago, commented, “That’s a concern from a public health standpoint, because it’s getting worse.”
The study showed that because of the increase in polypharmacy, the percentage of people at risk for serious or even life-threatening drug interaction has gone from 8 percent in 2005-2006 to 15 percent in 2011-2012.
Dr. Qato also stated in a CBS interview on this issue, “Many of these potentially deadly drug interactions involve prescription and non-prescription medications and supplements that are not commonly used, but are increasingly being used by older adults. While it is not known how many older adults in the U.S. die of drug interactions, the risk seems to be growing and public awareness is lacking.”
“It is time to take the next leap forward. We need to create systems that support an ongoing process of monitoring medications,” said Michael A. Steinman, M.D., of the University of California, San Francisco, in an accompanying editorial. “Such systems would help us periodically assess the benefits, harms and ongoing need for each of a patient’s medications, as well as the reasonableness of the medication regimen as a whole. These systems could also help physicians with deprescribing, for example by supporting gradual down-titration of a medication and monitoring patients for adverse drug withdrawal reactions after a drug is stopped.”
“As much as we need to support reforms in medication monitoring, we seriously need to examine the culture of taking so many medications,” says Robert Braile D.C. chairman of the International Chiropractors Association Public Relations Committee. “Americans represent about 5% of the world’s population, yet we consume about 50% of the prescription medication in the world. This, coupled with the fact that the U.S. ranks far below many other nations in almost all health statistics except spending, should lead us to question whether or not the culture of a pill for every ill is a healthy and prudent direction.”