Drug consumption patterns in American adults

February 4, 2009 by  

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“The most commonly used OTC and prescription drugs are cardiovascular agents…together with dietary supplements, the potential for drug-drug interactions is great…”

We live in an era of self-medication/self-supplementation as more and more people swallow pills every day to manage chronic diseases, alleviate symptoms, prevent caner, enhance performance, or simply try to meet the nutritional daily requirements. Unfortunately, good the intentions may be, interactions between drugs can lead to adverse events, which can range from mild to potentially life-threatening.

This heartwire article reports that

one in 25 US adults at risk for serious drug-drug interactions, mostly due to [cardiovascular] CV agents…The figure comes from a nationwide US survey of 3005 men and women aged 57 through 85 that also speaks to the high proportion of nonprescription medications and supplements being taken by older adults, in combination with prescription drugs.”

The data was collected through patient interviews and medication records between June 2005 and March 2006, particularly looking into the regular use of prescription drugs, over-the-counter (OTC) drugs and dietary supplements. The results show that CV drugs and supplements are the most commonly concurrently used medications. Other key findings are:

  • More than four out of five participants took at least one prescription drug.
  • Two out of five participants took at least one OTC drugs
  • Almost 50% of participants took some kind of dietary supplement.
  • The most commonly used OTC and prescription drugs are antihypertension drugs, anticoagulants, and anti-cholesterol drugs (statins).
  • The most common supplements are vitamins and minerals plus alternative therapies for CV health such as omega-3 fatty acids, garlic, and coenzyme Q10.
  • The preferred supplements of women are calcium, vitamin D, and glucosamine-chondroitin and niacin for men.
  • More than half of the survey participants were taking five or more agents combined, most especially female and older participants.
  • One out of every 8 participants routinely took five or more dietary supplements alone.

It looks like it’s not only an era of self-medication, it is also an era of overmedication. Is this a problem?

The problems come with the so-called drug-drug interactions.

Doctors are supposed to consider the non-prescription drugs and supplements their patients may be taking before prescribing a drug. However, there seems to be a gap in the information exchange for a number of reasons, e.g. the doctors do not bother to ask and/or the patients do not tell the truth especially about alternative drugs that doctors might consider to be quack medicine.

The study authors conclude

“…with as many as 4%, or 2.2 million, of older adults in the United States affected, the economic and health consequences of these potential interactions are considerable. . . . Our findings suggest that concurrent use of prescription and nonprescription medications in older adults remains a public-health problem and could be an important focal point for further improvements in drug safety for seniors.”

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