“Are Your Prescriptions Killing You?”

Since I‘m constantly reading about health, wellness, exercise, and lifestyle, I want to periodically make you aware of books and articles you might find informative and beneficial.

My previous posts “And The Rx Winner Is . . .” and “Overtesting, Overdiagnosis, & Overtreatment” brought to mind Armon B. Neel, Jr., PharmD, CGP, and Bill Hogan’s book Are Your Prescriptions Killing You?  Neel, a consulting pharmacist, reviews the medications nursing home residents and hospital patients are taking as well as doing the same for individuals; Hogan is an investigative journalist.

Through his work, Neel advises his clients, age 65 or older, about the medications they shouldn’t be taking  (partly due to the reduced functions of their livers and kidneys as well the fact individuals “often lack the body chemistry that’s needed to breakdown drugs”); the possible drug interactions; discovering if the medications are the cause of certain symptoms/conditions; and how to reduce the number of pills someone is taking. Would you be surprised to learn that Neel has worked with and helped people who were on six or seven blood pressure medications a day as well as others who were taking up to twenty prescriptions a day?

Just within the first 30 pages, the authors highlight:

“Adverse reactions from prescription drugs are now the fourth-leading cause of death in the United States, after heart disease, cancer, and stroke, and that’s not counting the drug-induced deaths that are mistakenly contributed to illness or disease or are otherwise chalked up to natural causes . . . .”

“The risk of prescription drug errors is seven times greater for people sixty-five and older than for young people . . . .”

“Polypharmacy—meaning ‘many drugs’—refers to the problems that can occur when someone is taking multiple medications. It is a national epidemic. It’s responsible for up to 28 percent of all hospital admissions, studies show, and would rank as the fifth-leading cause of death in the United States if it were so classified.”

“A person taking 10 medications, for example, has 44 possible drug interactions that need to be analyzed; a patient taking 15 medications has 104 such possible interactions.”

Some of the chapters highlight specific medical conditions, the drugs used to treat them, and the potential perils connected with their use. Thus, chapters headings include: “Off the Charts: Do You Really Need Those Blood Pressure Drugs?,” ”Phantom Killers: NSAIDs (Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs),” “Statin Roulette: Drugs of Last Resort,” “The Bone-Scare Drugs: What You Should Know About Bisphosphonates,” “Does Dad Really Have Alzheimer’s?: A Look at Drug-Induced Dementia.” Just from these titles, you know the authors are addressing the drugs a majority of the Americans are taking.

Neel and Hogan discuss such points as how various drugs work, their histories, their benefits, common side effects, their interactions with other medications, and the contraindications for older individuals taking them.  Their remarks will make you think twice (and maybe grab this book first) before blindly filling a prescription and then, taking the pills.  They also offer drug-free approaches for various conditions at the end of chapters.

Through their book, Neel and Hogan ask us to become our own advocates by taking such actions as asking our doctors questions about the prescriptions they write for us (while insisting they use legible handwriting and plain English); finding out why our practitioner is prescribing the medication; ask about its side effects; should you try a nondrug approach first; and finally, a new step for most of us, having your medications reviewed on a yearly basis by a consultant pharmacist.

At the end of the book, the authors provide a self-assessment quiz for individuals 65 and older regarding the medications they’re prescribed.  The quiz is a quick way to see if you should consult with a board-certified geriatric pharmacist (to find one go to The Commission for Certification in Geriatric Pharmacy) about what you’re taking.

I highly recommend you read this book and then, share it with others.  The information could improve the quality of your life or of someone you love; it might even save a life.

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