People in their silver years are golden geese to Big Pharma: More than half are on at least 5 prescriptions, some more than 20
07/12/2018 // Russel Davis // Views

A recent study published in the journal Age and Aging has revealed that seniors and pensioners across the U.K. are being overly medicated for various diseases, making them an instant target among big pharmaceutical companies. A team of researchers at the Cambridge Institute of Public Health pooled data from more than 15,000 older people in order to accomplish the study. The patients have participated in two long-term health studies that began in the 1990s.

"We know that older people are at risk of being on too many drugs, without doctors always really understanding how they interact and what their side effects may be. This is why it is important that older people’s medicines are routinely reviewed," says Caroline Abrahams of the charity group Age UK.

The findings showed that the proportion of patients taking five or more different drugs per day grew from only 12 percent during the 1991-1994 period to 49 percent in the 2008-2011 period. The results also revealed that heart disease pills – such as statins and beta blockers for blood pressure – have grown by 230 percent. The drugs were also accounted for about 50 percent of all medications taken during the second period.

The research team also inferred that the Quality and Outcomes Framework program, which provides doctors with financial incentives to encourage drug prescription, may have played a central role in the marked increase in polypharmacy or excessive medication use. According to the experts, the initiative rewards physicians if they are able to accomplish goals for certain diseases such as heart disease, stroke, and asthma, as well as epilepsy, diabetes, and obesity.


"The Quality and Outcomes Framework (QOF) programme, like most clinical guidance on long-term condition management, targets a single disease. Guidelines are often dense and inflexible; thus, it is likely that clinicians who have limited consultation time, will prescribe focused on a single disease, rather than addressing the 'norm' of multi-morbidity, potentially leading to unnecessary prescribing and adverse effects. The observed increases in polypharmacy are to be expected as life expectancy increases and multi-morbidity rises. Programmes such as QOF … have resulted in earlier diagnosis, more proactive treatment and regular reviews of people with long-term conditions," the researchers told Daily Mail online.

Polypharmacy is also prevalent across the U.S., study reveals

The recent findings are reflective of a 2013 study that indicated an alarming growth in prescription drug overuse in the U.S. The researchers pooled data from the Rochester Epidemiology Project as part of the study. The results showed that 20 percent of Americans take five or more prescription drugs daily. The research team also found that 17 percent of patients are on antibiotic treatment, while 13 percent are on antidepressants and another 13 percent are taking opioids. In addition, 11 percent of patients take lipid-lowering drugs, while another 11 percent take vaccinations.

The experts also revealed that women and older adults use more prescription drugs. According to the findings, antidepressant and opioid use are most prevalent among young and middle-aged adults. On the other hand, cardiovascular drugs are most commonly used by older adults. Women also receive more prescription drugs, particularly antidepressants, across all age and drug groups compared with men. The researchers have also observed that about a quarter of middle-aged and older women are on antidepressants. (Related: Dementia patients are wildly over-medicated with antipsychotic drugs, study finds.)

"Often when people talk about health conditions they’re talking about chronic conditions such as heart disease or diabetes. However, the second most common prescription was for antidepressants — that suggests mental health is a huge issue and is something we should focus on. And the third most common drugs were opioids, which is a bit concerning considering their addicting nature," said study author Jennifer St. Sauver.

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