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Prescription Drug Cocktails Are Dangerous

By Connie Bobik

March 15, 2012, Brevard County, FL - Over the past decade there has been a dramatic increase in deaths related to prescribed medication overdoses with a focus on painkillers, sedatives, stimulants and related drugs.

But there's another growing concern and its polypharmacy - taking multiple medications simultaneously.

Risk for negative interactions increases from 6 percent in someone taking two medications per day to 50 percent in those taking five medications per day.

Polypharmacy can occur at any age but the impact is greatest among the elderly.

While those over 65 account for 15 percent of the population, they consume about 30 percent of all medications prescribed and 40 percent of over the counter medications.

It's estimated those over 65 take an average of four-to-five prescribed drugs and two over the counter drugs at any given time. Since it's anticipated the elderly population and its lifespan will increase in the future, the problem will only intensify.

Not long ago many of today's counter medications were available only by prescription. However, just because you can buy it over the counter doesn't mean that it can't be harmful.

Frequently, we are quick to purchase a counter medication to alleviate symptoms of a cold, flu or other common condition. If you're on a prescribed medication, you should talk with the pharmacist and ask if it's OK to take the counter drug with your current medications.

The use of herbs and supplements also interact with medications.

It's important to let your health care provider know what supplements you're taking because the side effects can appear as a symptom of a disease. This can result in the provider possibly prescribing an unneeded medication.

Food and drug interactions are also a concern. For example, green, leafy vegetables counteract the therapeutic effect of Coumadin.

Other causes of potential adverse effects include mislabeling of medications, confusion in drug names, wrong drugs, and the physical changes of aging affecting vision, memory and cognition.

The days are gone when people had one doctor, one pharmacist and limited drugs. Individuals and their health care providers, including pharmacists, must work together.

The keys to preventing adverse interactions are knowledge and communication so ask questions.

It's also important that you tell your health care providers the names of all the medications you are taking, including herbal supplements, counter drugs and vitamins.

Use the "brown bag" system to bring all medications to your provider for review.

Drug therapy has come a long way to improve lives but we must remain alert to the risks associated with polypharmacy.

Connie Bobik is an Associate Professor of Nursing and Director of the Nursing program on the Brevard Community College Cocoa Campus.