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Heritage Operations Group

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Dave Wegman, RPh, MS
Manager, Green Tree Pharmacy
This article was submitted by Dave Wegman to Pantagraph Health.
For additional information, please visit www.pantagraph.com.

 

What is polypharmacy?
Polypharmacy simply means "many drugs." It generally refers to problems that can occur when patients take a large number of medications. It is of particular concern for the elderly, since they make up about 13 percent of the population but account for using around 30 percent of all prescription drugs. The elderly often experience multiple disease states which require multiple medications, increasing the chances for adverse reactions, drug interactions and self-medication errors. Additionally, more medication side effects can result in even more polypharmacy, since many medications are given to mitigate the side effects of other medications. If you, a parent, or another loved one is taking multiple medications, it is important to be aware of polypharmacy issues.

 

Polypharmacy is becoming responsible for a greater proportion of health care problems and expenses. With an increasing population of older people experiencing more health problems and consuming more and more prescription and non-prescription drugs, the potential exists for the cure to be worse than the cause. Adverse drug effects are currently the fourth leading cause of death in the United States. The costs associated with drug-related problems are staggering. A study done in 2001 found that costs associated with drug-related problems in the U.S. exceed $177 billion -- more than the cost of the drugs themselves. Another study found that for people over 65 in the United States, more than 25 percent of hospitalizations are medication-related, and 60 percent of those are due to adverse drug reactions or unsafe combinations of drugs.

 

While polypharmacy problems are usually associated with taking too many drugs, other problems are a result of not taking medications as prescribed or not taking them at all. Forty percent of medication-related problems result from compliance issues, according to some estimates. The overwhelming task of taking multiple medications several times each day often reduces compliance with prescribed drug regimens. Needing to take more medications and more daily doses may reinforce an individual's self-perception of not being well and can result in a decreased desire to take medications.

 

The high cost of medications often results in decreased compliance. Some patients decide to lower their drug expenditures by taking medications less frequently. This may lead to a worsening of their condition and higher overall medical expenses. The perceived severity of the condition may also result in problems with compliance. People who wake up with pain or stiff hands have obvious reasons to take their arthritis medications, whereas patients with mild hypertension or diabetes may not feel any symptoms so they may be inclined to skip doses.

 

What leads to polypharmacy?
Both patients and their physicians can contribute to polypharmacy. Patients often imply to their physicians that a prescription is expected when they are seen for any condition. They also frequently do not tell the physician all the medications they are currently taking, resulting in duplicate prescriptions or treating the effects of one drug by prescribing another. Visiting multiple physicians and multiple pharmacies also increases the chances for polypharmacy by reducing the ability to track other medications.

 

What can be done to prevent polypharmacy?
Fortunately, several simple steps can be taken to reduce the chances of having problems from polypharmacy. Effective communication with your pharmacist and physician is the first step. Learn as much as you can about each medication you take, both over-the-counter as well as prescription drugs. Know what they are prescribed for and what possible side effects you may experience. In general, avoid combination products by asking your pharmacist to help you find a product just for the symptoms you are experiencing, not for every possible symptom. Make a list of all the medications you take and update the list after each physician visit. Be sure your physicians and pharmacist know all the medications you take, and periodically discuss with your physician whether each medication you are taking is still needed. Use only one pharmacy. If you use more than one physician, make sure each one knows what the others have prescribed. Read all the information on the labels. Have a system to remind you which medications are to be taken at different times throughout each day. Following a few simple steps like these can significantly reduce the chances of experiencing problems with polypharmacy.

 

Heritage Enterprises Inc.
115 W. Jefferson St., Suite 401
P.O. Box 3188
Bloomington IL 61702-3188
PH: (309) 828-4361
FAX: (309) 829-5477

Heritage Operations Group is proud to provide the senior population in Illinois with rehabilitative therapy services, skilled nursing care, specialized Alzheimer’s and dementia care, assisted and supportive living, independent living and pharmacy services.

 

Heritage Operations Group, is a separate and distinct legal entity from any and all other entities named or listed on this website.  Any information contained in this website does not constitute evidence of a relationship between Heritage Operations Group, or any other named or listed entity.

Heritage Operations Group •  115 W. Jefferson St. Suite 401  •  P.O. Box 3188   Bloomington, IL   61702-3188
PH. 800-397-1313  •  FAX: 309-829-5477

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