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Older People Taking Too Many Drugs

While the use of opioid pain killers has generated a lot of attention lately, little attention has been given the over use of drugs by the elderly. Nearly 46 percent of people between the ages of 70 and 79 take at least five prescription drugs to treat chronic conditions.

A recent article in the Washington Post (“The other big drug problem: Older people taking too many pills”), describes the growing problem: “the share of Americans of all ages who regularly took at least five prescriptions drugs nearly doubled between 2000 and 2012, from 8 to 15 percent.” Also, the percentage of people older than age 65 taking at least three psychiatric drugs more than doubled since 2004. Some of this increase is due to what’s known as a prescribing cascade, where every new problem – even those caused by a drug’s side effects - results in more prescriptions. Part of the problem is that some doctors are reluctant to recommend a patient discontinue a drug and simply assume that a colleague must have had a good reason to recommend it. However, a growing movement known as “deprescribing” is taking root. This movement involves systematically discontinuing drugs that are inappropriate or unnecessary. Let’s hope more doctors will be willing to ask questions about prescriptions and desprescribe when necessary.

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