WASHINGTON — Americans take a lot of pills: The number of prescriptions filled jumped by 85 percent in 20 years according to a study by Consumer Reports. Now the magazine is partnering with the feds to encourage people to check their meds to prevent harmful interactions.
“Half of American adults take an average of four to five prescription drugs; they also take one or two over-the-counter drugs and even one vitamin or supplement,” said Lisa Gill, a deputy editor at Consumer Reports, and that can be dangerous.
“Every time you add a medication to your regime, you substantially increase your risk for just a simple mistake on your part,” Gill said. The overall risk for “adverse events” increases exponentially for someone on four or more medications, experts say.
On National Check Your Meds Day, you’re encouraged to get a free “brown bag” medication review by showing your pharmacist everything you take, including over-the-counter drugs, supplements and prescriptions.
Pharmacists examining what you take might:
- Notice doses that are too high;
- Notice the possibility for adverse interactions;
- Suggest whether taking some medicines is worth reconsidering — some drugs are taken to control side effects of other drugs when a lifestyle change might work better or just as well;
- Make recommendations about what to discuss with your doctor, such as lowering a dose or stopping a medication.
Filling fewer prescriptions can save you money.
“Our statistics suggest that three out of every four times a person asks that question: ‘Can I stop taking one of my medications?’ — a doctor agrees and will basically de-prescribe you or stop one of your medications,” Gill said.
So, what’s the potential harm of taking too many meds?
Nearly 1.3 million people visited an emergency room in 2014 because of a medication-related side effect, problem, overdose or interaction, the Consumer Reports study found.
“As far as we can tell, the best research suggests that half of those are preventable — which is incredible,” Gill said.
All those ER visits cost the U.S. more than $200 billion a year, Gill said, and that doesn’t account for personal costs, such as missing work or an impact on a person’s health insurance situation.
“The toll on an individual or their household income or household finances can be substantial,” Gill said.
Gill said a discussion of the study’s findings among Consumer Reports editors led to the collaboration between the consumer group and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to create National Check Your Meds Day.
“We just looked at each other and said, ‘I can’t believe these statistics. I cannot believe how few mechanisms are in place to dial back prescribing. What can we do?’” Gill recalled.
Indeed, Dennis McCoy, a spokesman for Safeway, said “Safeway pharmacies will be supporting National Check Your Meds Day and will be sufficiently staffed to meet our patients’ needs.”