Health & Wellness

The Problem of Too Many Prescriptions

The more drugs seniors are prescribed, the greater the risk they’ll end up in hospital

By Lola Augustine Brown

When researchers at the University of Toronto analyzed health date from Ontario to determine the relationship between the number of prescription drugs people were on and how many times they ended up in the ER or were hospitalized, they found that the risk for hospital visits grew with each additional drug prescribed. The average number of different prescription drugs used by the seniors studied was seven per year. The findings were published in the Journal of Health Services Research.

Alone, these prescription drugs may not constitute a high risk for side effects, but combining drugs can cause serious short- and long-term problems for older people, especially when those drugs are opioids, anti-psychotics, and painkillers. Compounding the problem is that still more drugs may be given to counter the side effects of medications already prescribed.

Given that two-thirds of doctors’ visits result in a prescribed medication, according to the report—in part because patients expect to be prescribed something when they go to the doctor—Canadians are taking a lot of drugs.

The study suggested that doctors should be monitored to ensure that they’re prescribing the right drugs and staying on top of what drugs their patients are already taking. Another suggestion was that patient education is key, so that people are better able to advocate for themselves and their loved ones.

Photos: iStock.

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