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Growing risk of deadly drug interactions among the elderly

January 30, 2009 by  

Older people are at risk of suffering from drug interactionsDangers of an overmedicated society have been highlighted by a study which has found that middle-aged and elderly patients face an unprecedented risk of dangerous drug interactions.

Researchers from The University of Chicago found that among patients between 57 and 85 years of age, one in 25 people is at risk of harmful drug-drug interactions, while 91 percent take at least one prescription drug.

"In our study, men and women were equally likely to report a history of cardiovascular disease," said co-author Dr. Dima M. Qato of the University of Chicago.

The study, which was published in the December issue of the Journal of American Medical Association, drew attention to the fact that the elderly population is growing – so if measures are not taken to remedy the problem it is likely to get worse.

Around 50 percent of the drug-drug interactions identified involved potential bleeding problems. Most commonly, wafarin, a prescription anti-coagulant, was found to cause bleeding if combined with aspirin, which also interferes with clotting.

Other potentially deadly interactions included elevated potassium levels and muscle breakdown.

According to expert Dr. Clark Gillespie, although the FDA’s resources and funding have fallen behind, the fact that not all possible drug interactions are explored during clinical trials is due mainly to what he terms "a pressing medical and business environment."

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  • Bob Livingston

    Indeed everybody, especially the elderly, in the U.S. are over-medicated. Of course the reason for this is pharmaceuticals’ multi-billion dollar marketing and advertising programs.

    Studies of medical systems in other countries as well as in the United States where there are strikes or shut downs for various reasons, the general health of the people improves with less medical treatment and less drugs.

    Iatrogenic records show that most drug problems are doctor and hospital induced because of various errors and negligence.

  • Bob Russell, Texas

    It would be a great service if this site could provide a drug interaction matrix for us who are in the “golden years.” We realize that we can no longer trust the medical profession to shield us from the drug companies, while we are still dependent on both to deliver the drugs we need to maintain a decent lifestyle.


    I used to work for a home health care agency in Virginia. In addition to the clinical and administrative duties I operated a Drug interaction computer program. This included patient allergies. It would help us determine any possible problems. One of the grocery chains that operated a pharmacy within their store was very cooperative when I needed assistance in spelling or could not find the drug entered in our reference source. I sure wish I could remember the name of the software and that it would be free or inexpensive. I believe more each day that we as patient consumers must be totally aware and in charge of our bodies and speak up demanding the type of care for each of us as individuals. Doctors can’t and don’t know everything. I doubt they are immune to being exhausted and can get sick as well.

  • Bob Simmons

    I am almost 69 years old and am very sick and taking lots of prescription drugs. I spend most of my time watching TV and managing my drugs. It’s like running a small drugstore. I’m getting sicker every year and poorer as well. What a scam the doctors and the drug companies have. What happens when my money runs out? Will I loose my house and car and live on the street? The drugs are poisonous and toxic and very expensive and of course they cure nothing. That is why I can’t afford to travel or play golf anymore. No Money. I’m sure I’m not the only senior in this predicament. The medicare drug program is a poor excuse for stealing seniors retirement. The emphasis should be: No drug ads and going out for bid on the drugs to save the seniors some money and maybe the government as well. The politicians point at this program as a fine thing the have done for us seniors. When it was first passed no one understood how it really worked. You were penalized if you didn’t sign up when you were supposed to. The later you signed up the more it would cost you. Does that sound like a government scam? You bet.

    • Mung

      Dear Mr. Bob Simmons,
      I am glad that you have discovered the truth about taking a lot of medications. I hope you find a way to gradually get out of a scam. I was given some prescriptions to take, but after I finished a bottle and inherited fearful side effects, I realized that I better find the exit before I become a victim of such a horrible deception. Hope you find a good solution to your health. I tried alternative ways to deal with my health needs. Just make sure that it is an honest company as well. God bless.

  • Barbara Haring

    Why are we taking all these drugs in the first place? Is it because the ads tell us we need these things to have a “healthy” life? Who pays for these ads? Oh yes, the pharmaceutical companies. That’s like putting Dracula in charge of the blood bank. In the past we didn’t run to the doctor for everything, and, if you had medical insurance at all, it was hospitalization only. How funny, back then, with no insurance, you could actually afford to go to the doctor. I have health insurance (it takes all my pension check but I have it) but the co-pay keeps increasing to the point I can’t afford it, the deductible and the monthly payment too. My husband and I are 62 years old and take no prescription drugs. We exercise daily and have five acres of property we maintain ourselves, which means we get out in the sun on a regular basis. Since we live in Texas near Houston, we even mow our lawn in the winter – mostly to keep the weeds down. I use my now-deceased family members as a go-by. Most of them lived at least till their early 80s and were active and independent till the end. Yes, I’m very fortunate to have good genes, but I’m taking advantage of that by living a healthy lifestyle – and avoiding legal drug addiction.

  • Barbara Haring

    I was just rereading the replies again and thought of something I read in an AARP magazine awhile back. There was a doctor, in Florida I believe, that went into nursing homes and took away most of the patients’ medications. The once zombiefied patients were actually up, moving around and enjoying things again. The other doctors were furious with him. You can guess why. He wanted to take away half of their incomes. I think doctors should have to declare how much money they get as kickbacks from the drug companies.

    When my daughter was a teenager she went to a doctor we had been going to for years because she had a sinus infection. She went on her own and when I got home from work she handed me a stack of prescriptions she needed filled. I looked at them and totally freaked out. I kept the one for antibiotics because she had an infection and very rarely took antibiotics at all. I also kept the one for an antihistamine feeling I’d need to buy one anyway and she would only use it until the infection cleared up. The other four I threw in the trash. When I told people I did that, they were horrified. They said I shouldn’t second guess a doctor. If not me, who? I don’t trust modern doctors that much and only go when I might need a prescription – probably once every five or more years. It’s about money these days, not helping patients.

    I also had an elderly friend who died because of drug interactions. He was using the same doctor we were. This doctor’s name was Hill and people started calling him Pill Hill. We’ve changed doctors.

  • USPatriot

    After my mother broke her hip, she was taken to a nursing home for rehab learning to walk. I reviewed her medicine and discovered a discharging physician had prescribed a powerful diuretic. I told the nurse this medicine would kill her. She called the nursing home doctor, who did not rescind it. The medicine put her in intensive care after only 3 days on this medicine. Her kidneys were shutting down by then. Even with an advocate, it is a dangerous world for seniors.


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