Understanding medication safety key as people live longer, take multiple medications


Medications, both prescribed and over-the-counter, help to cure infectious disease, manage symptoms of chronic illnesses and alleviate pain for millions of Americans every day. Yet, these same medications can also cause harm if not taken properly.

This is especially true for adults, age 65 years and over, who may find managing multiple prescriptions at once to be quite challenging. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), medications taken improperly can trigger an adverse drug event (ADE) that may result in a trip to the emergency department or even worse, death.

“An adverse drug event is the injury that the misuse of medication can have on a body whether it is physical or mental,” said Geetha Ambalavanan, MD, a Premier HealthNet physician who practices at Fairborn Medical Center. “The most common cause (of an ADE) is taking multiple medications, the interaction of certain medications, taking the wrong dosage of medication or not taking medication properly.”

ADEs cause over 700,000 emergency department visits each year and nearly 120,000 patients each year need to be hospitalized for future treatment after emergency visits for ADEs. Additionally, the risk of ADEs may increase as more people take more medicines. Older adults are twice as likely as others to come to emergency departments for ADEs and nearly seven times more likely to be hospitalized after an emergency visit, the CDC reports.

Primary care physicians play an important role in helping older adults manage their medications. Much like the spoke of a wheel, a primary care physician can help maintain balance for a patient who is handling multiple medications prescribed by several different specialists. They also provide the follow-up care that is critical after a patient has been released from a hospital visit with a list of new medications and directives, Dr. Ambalavanan said.

“If I see a patient in the office who may not fully understand the medications that he or she is taking, what they are for, and how long they are suppose to be taking them, I try to get a family member or caregiver involved,” Dr. Ambalavanan said.

To avoid an ADE, Dr. Ambalavanan recommends older adults — sometimes with the help of their caregivers — keep a list of all their medications as well as the specific instructions of what time of day they should take it and whether it should be done on an empty stomach. She also advises patients who visit the hospital to have a follow-up visit with their primary care physician.

Some medications — such as blood thinners, diabetes medication and seizure medication — need regular blood testing to help make sure the dose is accurate. The CDC recommends that older adults keep up with any blood testing recommended by a doctor as over 40 percent of emergency visits which require patients to be hospitalized are caused by just a few of these medications. All patients should be careful only to take pain medications as directed. In 2004, more than 7,500 Americans died of unintentional overdoses of pain medications such as methadone and oxycodone, according to the CDC.

Finally, it’s important to remember that medication safety doesn’t just pertain to prescription drugs. Older adults can experience an ADE by taking over-the-counter medication as well. For example, Acetaminophen, the active drug in Tylenol and many other products, is another common over-the-counter, go-to medication that, if taken improperly, can have very dangerous consequences. In fact, Acetaminophen overdose sends nearly 78,000 Americans to the emergency room annually and results in 33,000 hospitalizations a year. Acetaminophen is also the nation’s leading cause of acute liver failure, according to data from an ongoing study funded by the National Institutes for Health.

Aspirin is also a medication that someone may decide to take on a regular basis because of advice from a friend or information they may have heard from the news. But if an individual doesn’t need to be taking aspirin on a regular basis, they may experience severe side effects including gastrointestinal bleeding or gastritis, Dr. Ambalavanan said. Therefore, it is always important to speak to a primary care physician before starting over-the-counter medications due to potential reactions with prescription medication.


Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Health

Parenting with Dr. Ramey: What’s dangerous about the Golden Rule

The Golden Rule advising that you should behave towards others as you’d like to be treated seems reasonable — but in fact, represents a dangerous and wrong way of thinking about the world. Lee Ross and his social psychology colleagues have called this blunder in thinking “naive realism.” Avoiding this error will make you a better...
D.L. STEWART: Real men wear short coats because being cold is cool

A letter writer to the chief fashion critic at The New York Times asked a question in last Tuesday’s edition. “My son is in college in Maine,” AMY, PELHAM, N.Y., wrote, “and the temperature is frequently below zero. It seems like every woman is swathed in an ankle-length black puffer coat from November to March. So why do men...
Coupon deals of the week
Coupon deals of the week

Coupon availability and coupon values may vary within different regions or neighborhoods. Irish Spring Body Wash This week at Rite-Aid, Irish Spring body wash is on sale for $3.99. In most of your Rite-Aid ad inserts, you should find a coupon for this product that will drop the price down to $1.99. Also, use the $1 off one Irish Spring body wash manufacturer...
Cat play is a weighty matter
Cat play is a weighty matter

Cats need daily playtime to keep them healthy and happy, according to www.humanesociety.org. The organization lists multiple benefits including mental and physical stimulation, energy release, performing preying behaviors and bonding with their humans. This is important because an Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP) study shows over 50 percent...
6 top tiny home vacation rentals that won’t cost you your mortgage
6 top tiny home vacation rentals that won’t cost you your mortgage

Need a vacation that isn't followed by a barrage of credit card bills? Tiny home vacation rentals are a wallet-friendly option, with beach, mountain and ranch locations available. Renting a small space for a weekend getaway or weeklong adventure is also a great way to test drive the tiny home concept.  »RELATED: Here's what a $1 million...
More Stories