How many prescription drugs do you take on a regular basis? Five, six or even more? Do you think you need each of them? When it comes to taking medications, most Americans get worried about prices. They are shockingly high in the USA. In fact, they are the highest in the world. No doubt, that problem requires urgent measures. But sky-rocketing prices are not the only reason for unbearable drug expenses. There is one more critical factor — overprescribing. And the impact of this factor has grown dramatically in recent years.
According to statistics, within the period of the past 20 years the number of elderly patients, prescribed 5 and more drugs, has tripled — to approximately 42 %. Sure, that trend affects all the age groups, but prescribing multiple medications to an old person is a norm, which may lead to absurd situations, when a patient is taking several dozens of products simultaneously. Aging should not be treated as a reason to prescribe additional medications, unless there are real health problems associated with this process.
Why Are Americans Prescribed So Many Drugs?
- The healthcare system encouraging doctors to prescribe more products. Medical specialists work in accordance with the guidelines, and the current versions of these documents imply using a large number of medications, especially when it comes to treating people with serious chronic diseases or the elderly.
- Complicated de-prescribing procedures. Reviewing and cancelling prescriptions requires much time and effort, as well as special skills.
- The lack of communication between specialists working with the same patient. As a rule, older people and those suffering from chronic diseases regularly visit several doctors, besides, they may get admitted to hospitals, nursing homes and other facilities, which means more medical specialists and, consequently, more diagnoses and medications to take. And in many cases all those specialists do not have access to the comprehensive information on the patient’s health and the medicines he uses, which may lead to prescribing incompatible drugs, as well as unsuitable and potentially harmful ones. As a result, one may take products causing severe adverse side effects, which will lead to prescribing more medicines in order to treat those side effects, and the new products are also likely to cause some new unpleasant symptoms. That’s the circle of despair.
- Aggressive advertising. Pharma companies spend billions of dollars each year to promote their products. Drug ads are everywhere. Sure, they display medications as quick and safe solutions to unpleasant symptoms without paying much attention to contraindications, side effects and product interactions. It is not a surprise that many patients ask their physicians about the medications they see on TV or on the Internet. When they keep on asking a prescription, most doctors yield to persuasion, even when a person doesn’t actually need a particular drug. Doctors want to stay on good terms with their patients after all. In addition, they see ads as well.
- The “pill for every ill” prescribing culture. Both doctors and patients believe that every symptom should be treated in some way, and that may easily result in the medication overload. There is a large range of conditions, which are accompanied by multiple unpleasant symptoms, but that doesn’t mean that one should take a medicine for each of them.
What Are the Negative Effects of the Medication Overload?
First of all, taking unnecessary drugs is associated with serious health risks. There are just a few medications that do not cause any negative side effects, so, every time one starts using a new medicine, he is likely to start experiencing new unpleasant symptoms. More to the point, those side effects may get even fatal.
Let’s have a look at the figures. According to statistics, in 2018 about 5 million of elderly patients turned for medical help because of the adverse side effects associated with the drugs prescribed. That figure constitutes 10% of senior citizens of the USA. And over 250,000 of older patients had to go into the hospital to treat those side effects.
In case the situation isn’t fixed in the nearest future, over the next 10 years about 5 million elderly Americans will get hospitalized due to adverse side effects. And about 150,000 people may die because of the use of unsuitable and unnecessary medications.
Sure, servicing such patients requires money. For example, it has been estimated that over the next decade the US government will have to spend about $62 billions on covering the expenses associated with the hospitalization of senior patients due to adverse side effects. That’s a huge sum of money, isn’t it?
What are the available solutions?
In case you feel or suppose that your doctors have prescribed too many drugs to you, it is high time to revise the list of prescriptions. Turn to your physician and ask him about that.
One more option to consider is to turn to a pharmacist. As a rule, such specialists have enough experience to optimize prescription lists. Besides, you do not have to make an appointment to see them.
After you revise your prescription list with a specialist, keep monitoring it. Every time your doctor recommends a new product to you, ask him about the time limits of the treatment, the side effects and the alert signals requiring medical help. Make sure your doctors keep your prescriptions under control. That will help you avoid complicated revising and de-prescribing procedures.
Still, fixing this situation is the responsibility of the government. They should take decisive steps to improve the communication between medical specialists, to implement the system of regular checkups, to create the comprehensive data base comprising all the relevant information on the patients, their health problems and the medications they take. The medical overload is the urgent problem, and it should be addressed within the shortest reasonable period of time.