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Too Many Meds May Be More Problem Than Cure
Date:11/3/2011

By Dennis Thompson
HealthDay Reporter

THURSDAY, Nov. 3 (HealthDay News) -- Barely a week goes by, it seems, without some company announcing a new pill designed to help you live a longer, healthier life.

Medication can, indeed, do a lot toward curing, preventing or easing many ills. But taking a fistful of pills each day creates its own set of medical risks, prompting concern among a growing number of physicians and pharmacists that people are simply taking too many medications for their own good.

"As you keep increasing the amount of prescriptions, that increases the chance of having a drug interaction or major side effect," said Sophia De Monte, a pharmacist in Nesconset, N.Y., and a spokeswoman for the American Pharmacists Association. "It's exponential. The more you add on, the more chance you'll have something bad happen."

It's a concept called polypharmacy, the use of more medications than someone actually needs. And that means not just prescription drugs but also over-the-counter medications and dietary supplements.

The average American is prescribed medication about 13 times a year, according to a report last year by the Kaiser Family Foundation. But the likelihood of polypharmacy increases as people age. Studies have found that seniors make up 13 percent of the population but account for 30 percent of all drug prescriptions. When elderly patients transfer from hospitals to nursing homes for rehabilitation, it is common for caregivers to have to keep track of nine or more prescribed medications for each person, according to a long-term care report.

The more medications people take, the more likely it is that they'll experience a problem in three key areas, said De Monte and Norman P. Tomaka, a pharmacist in Melbourne, Fla., including:

  • Drug interactions. Drugs can work against each other in strange ways, and the more medications added to a daily regimen, the greater the risk
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