Studies say Americans have reached an all-time high in terms of the prescription drugs they take, especially when it comes to older adults.
At the same time, senior citizens also take more supplements and over-the-counter (OTC) treatments, which increases the risk of dangerous drug interactions.
According to researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago and the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, the situation is getting worse each year.
For the study, they crunched data from two national surveys covering 2,000 older adults. The first survey was conducted in 2005-2006, and then repeated in 2010-2011.
Worryingly, the authors found that during the five-year timeframe, the number of adults aged 62 and older who is at risk of major drug interaction had doubled, rising from 8.4 percent to 15.1 percent.
Meanwhile, there was an increase in the use of prescription drugs, as almost a third of those surveyed reported they were prescribed at least five medications a day.
But even more concerning was the fact that the research team found that two-thirds of the respondents on multiple medications were topping everything off with OTCs and dietary supplements – minerals and multivitamins.
Dr. Caleb Alexander, co-director of the Center for Drug Safety and Effectiveness at Hopkins, said that one in 6 older adults is currently at high risk of developing a major drug interaction problem. Dr. Alexander was the lead researcher of the study.
He added that doctors and patients alike are often forgetful of how dangerous it could be to combine over-the-counter treatments and supplements with a prescribed drug.
Physicians and other health care professionals should remember how commonly it is for older patients to take dietary supplements.
Even though only a small number of medications are responsible for the vast majority of dangerous drug interactions, the problem is that they are among the most commonly prescribed meds in the U.S.
Anticoagulants, blood thinners, and cardiovascular treatments for high blood pressure and cholesterol are on the list. Statins, for example, can help reduce the risk of heart attacks, but when combined with certain OTCs and supplements, they can spell trouble.
Dr. Alexander’s study focused on the senior part of the demographic, but we should all be more aware of how drug interact, and make sure that we consult a healthcare provider before combining prescription medications with any other meds.
The takeaway here is that just because a particular treatment is readily available over the counter doesn’t make it completely safe.
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