NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Seniors' Big Drug Problem

December 24, 2003

Pharmaceutical drugs are beneficial, but many of those medications are inappropriate for seniors or can be deadly if taken improperly or in combination with incompatible remedies. Such adverse reactions are increasing as the elderly use more and more drugs:

  • Today, 40 percent of seniors take five or more prescription drugs a week.
  • Twelve percent take more than 10 prescription drugs a week, along with vitamins, herbal supplements, and over-the-counter pills.
  • Drug-related injuries among seniors number as many as 2.3 million each year --nearly 200,000 of them fatal or life threatening.
  • Drug-related injuries have become the fifth leading cause of death among seniors.

Medications which cause the most problems are sedatives, antidepressants and antipsychotic drugs, as well as pain medications. Because frequent drug reactions include falling, dizziness and confusion, many doctors simply write off these dangers as a consequence of growing old. Or they mistake them for symptoms of other diseases and prescribe still more drugs.

Experts suggest that seniors who see several doctors, ask one to coordinate care. Or hire a geriatric care manager or a consulting pharmacist to review medications and work with their doctors to manage them.

Source: Howard Gleckman, "Seniors' Big Drug Problem: Misusing medications is a leading cause of death among the elderly," BusinessWeek, December 22, 2003.


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