RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — Nearly 59 percent of all Americans are taking at least one prescription medication and 15 percent are taking more than five.
When you add in over the counter drugs (OTC), we are a highly-medicated society. More than one-third of all prescriptions written in the U.S. are taken by elderly patients—the average senior fills between nine and 11 prescriptions per year.
- What are the risks associated with taking multiple medications?
Older Americans are at the greatest risk for complications related to medications. The use of medications has increased as people get older. For example, for those aged 40-64 years, the use of one or more prescription medications increased from 57 percent in 1999-2000 to 65 percent in 2011-2012, whereas the use increased from 84 percent to 90 percent, respectively, in those older than 65 years.
In general, when we take both prescription medications and OTC medications together, we are often not aware of potential side effects and drug interactions. Americans tend to self-treat for many common ailments and will take multiple OTC medications in conjunction with powerful prescription drugs. These interactions can result in damage to the liver, kidney and other organ systems. In addition, certain medications can interact in a way that can elevate or lower blood levels of important prescription drugs.
In the elderly, it is common to see impaired judgment and confusion related to taking Benadryl, sleep aids and pain medications—this can lead to falls and injury.
- What are the most commonly prescribed drugs?
Drug categories with the most prescriptions include blood pressure medication, anti-depressants, cholesterol medication and opioid painkillers. More deaths occurred in 2016 from opioid overdoses than from auto accidents.
- What can we do to make sure that we are not taking drugs that interact and how do we know its ok to take over the counter meds?
- Talk with your pharmacist
- Keep a list
- Question everything. Always ask why you are on a particular pill
- Verify new prescription bottles for accuracy
- Are there tools out there to help patients?
First of all, it is very important to organize your medications and keep an updated list with you at all times. Now there are really good tools to do this—one app called My Rx Profile allows patients to scan in UPC codes, pictures of bottles and drug names into their phone and create a personalized profile. When you add a new med—either prescription or OTC—the app immediately alerts you to a potential drug interaction.