Misusing Prescription Medications: An Epidemic?


Epidemic may be a strong word, but it got your attention right? Although I have not heard anyone officially call misusing medications in elders an epidemic, it is a significant problem in America and it is only expected to increase. Sadly, cases of misusing prescriptions can decrease and individual’s overall health, can mask other underlying health issues, make a person appear psychotic or demented when they are not, and sometimes result in death.

Last month PA Link had the opportunity to host a full-day conference for professionals on Substance Abuse in The Elderly. Linda Shumaker, from Optimize Aging shared some startling statistics on the topic of misusing medications, which can be considered a form of substance abuse, whether it is intentional or by mistake.

Many seniors misuse medications by accident because:

  • They don’t realize they should advise their doctor of over-the-counter medications, supplements and/or vitamins they take.

  • Their doctor doesn’t know the full list of medications another doctor or specialist may have prescribed.

  • They don’t fully understand the dosing directions, cannot read the fine print or hear the doctor or pharmacists directions. (health literacy)

  • The medication has expired or they are “sharing” medications to save money or pharmacy visits.

  • They are drinking alcohol, even moderately.

  • They have not taken their medications at a consistent time each day or even missed a dose.

  • As we get older, our bodies metabolize the drugs slower and they can remain in our systems longer.

How can seniors avoid medication misuse? According to Linda Shumaker, it is always best to follow these tips:

  • ALWAYS ask your doctor why a drug has been prescribed and what it is intended to do.

  • ALWAYS use the same pharmacy to fill all of your prescriptions.

  • Ask your doctor if you may drink alcohol while taking your medications.

  • Take a list of ALL medications, doses, etc. with you to each and every doctor visit.

  • Make sure you FULLY understand how to take the medication as prescribed. Ask questions as much as you need to for clarification.

  • Contact your doctor IMMEDIATELY if you have any side effects or changes in your health.

As always, it is important for us to be our own advocates, especially when it comes to health care. Don’t be afraid to ask questions from your doctor and your pharmacist. Speak with your doctor and ask if a prescription is really necessary. Maybe a holistic approach, physical therapy or an over-the-counter medication may be an appropriate first step and worth the try.

If you do have questions about your medications or need help managing them, reach out for help. There are many resources available. Items such as automated medication dispensers, reminder phone call systems, bubble packs from your pharmacy or even an individual in your home might be good options to ensure you live a long, healthy life and avoid medication misuse.

[Bottorf is the PA Lead Link Coordinator for the Aging and Disability Resource Center. She covers nine counties, including Union, Snyder, Northumberland, Columbia and Montour. She can be contacted at mbottorf2016@gmail.com.]

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