I don’t think anyone would be surprised to know that Americans are popping more pills than ever.
About 60% take at least one prescription medication. Even more take daily dietary supplements, herbal remedies or other over-the-counter drugs.
And the more drugs you take, the higher the risk of dangerous drug interactions.
A new study published this month in JAMA reports that close to 88% of older Americans over the age of 62 take at least one drug. Of those, the report estimates, 15% are at high risk of suffering from a major drug-drug interaction.
I read Dr. Richard Lehman’s response to this study. Dr. Lehman is a British physician who has a wonderful blog that discusses the weekly offerings in several medical journals. I enjoy both his insight and his humorous commentary on what’s happening in the medical world.
In regards to this particular article, he opened with a quote from a famous 19th-century physician, Dr. William Osler:
The desire to take medicine is perhaps the greatest feature which distinguishes man from animals. One of the first duties of the physician is to educate the masses not to take medicine.
I don’t think Dr. Osler would be too impressed with our current health care system! 😕
Dr. Lehman also included the following tips to cut back on medications:
- Think what you could do instead of using a medicine.
- Unless you have a special reason, avoid new medicines. Stick to those about which a lot is known from many sources and which have been used for over 10 years; bad news about a drug often takes years to emerge.
- Before deciding to use a medicine be clear whether it is to relieve a symptom, to cure a disease, to remedy some deficiency, or to prevent something. It doesn’t make any sense at all to prevent something in the future if it’s going to cause you some problem now.
- Ask a doctor or pharmacist you trust, someone who understands it a bit better than you do, how well the medicine works, what problems people have had with it, and what happened.
- If you have to take medicines, get to know as much as you can about those that help you.
- Everybody is different and you must learn how your own body reacts to medicines.
- Keep a diary of your experiences with a medicine: why you took it, how much for how long, what happened and when, how well it worked, and anything you didn’t like.
- If something bad happens that you suspect may have been caused by a medicine, report it on a yellow card; ask a doctor, pharmacist, or nurse to help you do that or to do it for you. [Yellow Card is the UK system for reporting adverse drug events; for the US, report to FDA’s MedWatch.]
- When you have a problem about an adverse reaction or something difficult to discuss with your doctor, take someone with you to the consultation, because four ears are better than two; there are too many things to think about and an independent opinion is well worth having.
Regarding his second tip, I’ve posted a couple of times before about being careful with new-to-market drugs. As Dr. Lehman says, they just don’t have well established safety records and must be used with caution.
Related post: The Seven Year Rule
The best advice, I think, is to take the fewest drugs at the smallest possible dose for the shortest period of time.
For more information on drug and supplement safety, visit my Resources page.
I’ll end this post with another quote from Dr. Osler:
The young physician starts life with 20 drugs for each disease, and the old physician ends life with one drug for 20 diseases.