As the Baby Boomer generation gets older, the medications to help them stay healthier have gotten better. Unfortunately, this has led to unintended consequences.
Physicians and medical groups are concerned that the entire population and especially those who are older are over-medicated. According to a news report in the Wall Street Journal, about 40 percent of patients who are 60 and older regularly take as many as five medications simultaneously. This has caused a situation where the “cure” has the potential of being more deleterious than the “disease.” As a result, doctors are beginning to de-prescribe medications.
There are even websites sprouting up to help patients with multiple medical conditions and drug regimens sort out this very dangerous calculus. According to Cara Tannenbam, a geriatrician and scientific director of the Institute of Gender and Health at the Canadian Institutes of Health Research in Montreal who was quoted in the WSJ article, “What was good for you once might not be as good for you now. On a regular basis, patients should be asking their health-care providers, ‘Is this still the right drug for me, and if not, what other drug or nondrug therapies are safer and equally effective?’”
The article notes that Dr. Tannenbaum and pharmacist Barbara Farrell have developed a website, deprescribing.org, that is used by doctors in both the U.S. and Canada to “provide information to help patients determine if they should consider stopping certain medications that may be unnecessary or cause harm, including a common medication for heartburn or reflux called a proton pump inhibitor and certain diabetes drugs that increase the risk for low blood sugar.”
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The founder of Evexias Medical Centers, who is also a nurse practitioner, Terri DeNeui, has seen the effects of multiple medications among her patients. In fact, she recently completed her own research on the topic of over-prescribing medications. She shared some of her findings in a recent interview.
“Technology has provided so many ways to diagnose and treat every kind of illness imaginable,” she said. “We are discovering new medical conditions, which we had no idea about a few years ago, and treating them with prescription drugs. While these advances in medical technology are fantastic, they bring with them a real challenge.
“I first noticed this when I worked in the emergency room of hospitals. Patients would show up in the ER and were being treated by multiple specialists – from the cardiologist to an endocrinologist to the patient’s general practitioner – and none of these doctors were communicating with each other. In many cases, the physician on duty would not know what medications the patient was taking. Plus, if the patient was unconscious, there was no way to ask him about these.
“It’s not surprising that one of the leading causes of death, especially among elderly patients, is “polypharmacy.” The side effects from multiple medications are also some of the leading causes for hospital admittance.
It’s Not Just Prescription Drugs Causing Harm
Millions of people worldwide take hundreds of millions of doses of over-the-counter drugs, herbal-based drugs and supplements every year. Most will be surprised to learn that these non-prescription medications can also be deadly when they are combined inappropriately.
“The ‘proton pump inhibitors’ (PPI’s) referenced in the above article such as Nexium™ or Prilosec™ were originally prescription drugs,” Terri noted. “The reason for this is simple. They were only intended to be used for a short term to overcome an acute issue in the stomach.
“With constant advertising and promotion of these (now) over-the-counter drugs, patients are taking these every day, for months and even years. There’s a reason why stomach acid is developed in the gut. It controls harmful bacteria that get into the stomach and it helps to digest food.
“Rather than watching what we’re eating, the companies that make these drugs tell us that it’s okay to eat unhealthy foods so long as we take one of these PPI pills. It’s an unfortunate situation. There are so many OTC drugs that were formerly prescription drugs which can cause serious complications when taken constantly.”
Herbal based medications can also present a problem when they overlap. Terri explains.
“Many herbal medications react as drugs when they are in the body and can also lead to dangerous side effects when combined with prescription drugs. This is made worse by the fact that many, if not most people, do not share what herbal medications they are taking with their doctors because they think they are safe.
What can be Done?
As noted at the outset, modern medicine has enabled millions to live longer than previous generations. This presents a dilemma: How can one live longer without taking multiple drugs that may lead to dangerous side effects and even death? Terri offered a solution.
“The best way to resolve this problem is to address the root problems of these conditions – heart disease, diabetes and other chronic diseases – which can result in taking fewer medications. It is important to address lifestyle issues FIRST,” she said.
“When someone presents with high blood pressure, or with the risk of heart disease or diabetes, it is much more prudent to focus on lifestyle before prescribing long term medication. In this example, if someone loses 20 pounds, there’s a good possibility that they can normalize their blood pressure without the side effects or the expense of drugs.
“The mindset of many prescribers is that patients are not committed to changing their lifestyle and so the only approach is to prescribe drugs to deal with the effects of a chronic condition. This situation is exacerbated by the fact that many patients expect some kind of prescription or pill when they visit their doctor. They want a quick fix. Unfortunately, there is no quick fix.
“Hormone imbalance can play a part in this problem as well,” she noted. “This is because hormones play a big role in many of these chronic diseases. For example, patients with depression or anxiety know that there are medications (anti-depressants) to help them deal with these conditions. However, as we have noted, this is not dealing with what might be the root cause of these conditions and the side effects of these drugs are well-chronicled.
“Balancing one’s hormones can eliminate the symptoms of a wide range of conditions without having to resort to prescription drugs which can overlap and result in greater damage to the body.”
If you are taking two or more prescription drugs or if you are taking multiple over-the-counter drugs, these medications could be doing more harm than good. Contact us for more information on dealing with the root causes of your conditions.