Drugs taken by older people and their side effects are a problem not widely known

By Jane E. Brody, New York Times

While news reports focus on an epidemic of opioid abuse among young adults, another totally legal and usually hidden drug epidemic is occurring at the other end of the age spectrum: the fistfuls of remedies — both prescription and over-the-counter — taken by older adults.

According to the American Society of Consultant Pharmacists, people age 65 to 69 take an average of 15 prescriptions a year, and those age 80 to 84 take 18 prescriptions a year. And that’s in addition to myriad over-the-counter drugs, herbal remedies, vitamins and minerals they might take, any of which — alone or in combination — could cause more problems than they cure.

Among people over 65, 44% of men and 57% of women take five or more nonprescription and/or prescription drugs a week, and 12% take 10 or more.

Many of these supposed remedies are unnecessary or used incorrectly and can result in distressing and even dangerous side effects. For example, taking aspirin or a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) like ibuprofen could increase the risk of bleeding in patients on a prescribed antico­agulant like coumadin.

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