NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


February 26, 2007

As Americans take an ever-increasing array of prescription and over-the-counter medications and herbal supplements, the nation's patients and doctors find themselves facing a growing problem -- too many patients are unwittingly taking dangerous combinations of drugs, says the New York Times.

When that happens, the potential for problems is enormous.

  • In 2004, 82 percent of the United States population reported using at least one prescription drug, over-the-counter medication, or dietary supplement in the previous week, and 30 percent reported using five or more of these during the same period, according to a study by the Sloan Epidemiology Center at Boston University.
  • Among senior citizens, 75 percent of all Americans over the age of 65 took roughly four prescription drugs on a daily basis in 2005; the average 75-year-old in the United States swallowed eight different prescription medications each day.
  • That same year, approximately 1.6 million American teenagers and children (almost 300,000 of whom were under 10) were given at least two psychiatric drugs in combination, according to an analysis performed by Medco Health Solutions for the New York Times.

According to a recent study on physician prescription practices by the Columbia University Center for Addiction and Substance Abuse, fewer than 40 percent of all physicians in the United States take the time to contact a patient's other physicians to find out what additional medications their patient may be taking.

In August 2006, the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies released a major study on medication errors in American hospitals that found that adverse drug events harm more than 1.5 million people and kill several thousand a year, costing at least $3.5 billion annually.

Source: Howard Markel, "How Two Rights Can Make a Wrong," New York Times, February 25, 2007.

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