I learned something surprising, if not shocking, while writing a recent story on prescription medications.
According to one of the experts I interviewed, the number of people who die in Europe due to side-effects or interactions between prescription drugs is the equivalent to two jumbo jets crashing to Earth and killing everyone onboard EVERY SINGLE DAY.
That’s a problem that flies under the radar not just for the average person, but many medical professionals, too.
The likelihood of such problems increases with the number of medications that an individual is taking (as well as the dose, and the person’s age).
And get this: two out of three Canadians aged 65 and older take at least five prescription medications. More than one quarter of people in this age group — 27 per cent — take ten or more.
That’s not to say that all of these prescriptions are inappropriate. However, sometimes, the balance of benefits and risks changes as an individual ages. In some cases, new evidence emerges that a particular drug is less effective, or more risky than another; or that certain medications actually do more harm than good if taken for an extended period.
One of the problems is that the medical community has many guidelines outlining when to start drugs for various conditions — but nearly none that instruct doctors when to stop medications.
As a patient, there are some things you can do to help reduce your chances of experiencing harmful drug interactions. You can find out what they are in this Good Times health feature from 2018: ‘Managing Your Meds.’
A big thank-you to the interviewees who so generously shared their time and expertise:
- Philip Emberley, director of practice advancement and research at the Canadian Pharmacists Association in Ottawa, Ont.
- Dr. Camille Gagnon, PhD, assistant director of the Canadian Deprescribing Network, which is based at the Institut universitaire de gériatrié de Montréal (IUGM).
- Karen Lam, a pharmacist, and supervisor of the Sunnybrook Ambulatory Patient Pharmacy at Toronto’s Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre.
- Dr. Dee Mangin, professor, associate chair and director of research in the Department of Family Medicine (where she holds the David Bailey and Nancy Gordon Chair in Family Medicine), at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ont.
- Marijke Vroomen-Durning, a friend, Montreal-based freelance medical writer, former nurse, and author of Just the Right Dose: Your Smart Guide to Prescription Drugs and How to Take Them Safely.