Dima Mazen Qato and her colleagues from the University of Illinois at Chicago have revealed a worrisome trend as they studied changes in medication use in adults 62-85: more seniors are taking dangerous drug combinations. After visiting the homes of study participants to accurately observe medications and supplements in use, they discovered that 1 out of 6 seniors are regularly taking potentially deadly combinations of prescriptions, over-the-counter drugs, and dietary supplements.
Dietary supplements are being used by more seniors—an 11.9% increase from 2005 to 2011. Surprisingly, over-the-counter medications and supplements can have a dangerous effect on prescription medications. In fact, over-the-counter medications and dietary supplements accounted for over 50% of potentially detrimental drug interactions in Qato’s study.
One of the largest increases in dietary supplement usage has been in omega-3 fish oils, despite very little evidence of its benefits and actual proof that it can interact with prescription medications. “Preventative cardiovascular medications such as statins (cholesterol-lowering drugs, particularly simvastatin), anti-platelet drugs (such as clopidogrel and aspirin, used to prevent blood clots), and supplements (specifically omega-3 fish oil) accounted for the vast majority of these interacting drug combinations” according to Qato.
Although seniors are using drug combinations to improve their health, certain drug interactions could actually complicate (or create) health issues. An example Qato uses involves cardiovascular medications. Qato states that “the use of clopidogrel in combination with the proton-pump inhibitor omeprazole, aspirin, or naproxen—all over-the-counter medications—is associated with an increased risk of heart attacks, bleeding complications, or death. However, about 1.8 percent—or 1 million—older adults regularly use clopidogrel in interacting combinations.”
The increase in potentially dangerous drug interactions could be linked to changes in Medicare Part D, treatment guideline changes, as well as an increased availability of generic drugs. The combination of these three changes happening simultaneously have made prescriptions drugs more affordable for seniors. Because seniors do not have to pick and choose which medications they can afford to fill, it seems that the number of seniors using 5 or more prescriptions rose 5.2% from 2005 to 2011. However, it also means seniors are more exposed to using dangerous drug combinations.
Thankfully, it is very simple to prevent dangerous drug combinations. All you have to do is visit your physician. Bring in all of your prescriptions, over-the-counter medications, and supplements to the doctor’s office during your next visit. Share your concern about drug interactions openly by asking your physician to review all of the medications and supplements you are actively taking. It’s that easy to protect yourself from the negative effects of adverse drug interactions.