If you look around the waiting room at the Whitaker Wellness Institute, you’ll see people clutching paper or plastic bags. No, they’re not toting their lunches or recent purchases. These bags contain bottles of prescription medications, which patients bring in for review with their doctor during their first visit. In many cases, these bags are bulging at the seams, with a dozen or more prescription medications!
This underscores what is surely the most egregious practice in modern medicine: polypharmacy, which is defined by Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary as “the act or practice of prescribing too many medicines.” At greatest risk are older patients. Although people age 65 and over make up only 13 percent of the population, they receive one-third of all prescription medications. A quarter of individuals in this age group take three or four different prescription medications every day, and more than 20 percent take five or more.
No studies support the benefits or safety of such indiscriminate use of prescription medications—none at all!
Yet every week we see new patients who come to the clinic taking six, eight, 10, or more prescription medications. This is not just dangerous—it’s insane.
How can you protect yourself from overuse of prescription medications?
- Stop and ask questions the next time your physician whips out the prescription pad. Ask exactly why that particular prescription medication is being recommended, what the risk is of not taking the prescription medication, and if there’s a non-drug alternative.
- Remind your doctor about all of the over-the-counter and prescription medications and vitamins you’re taking, each and very time a new prescription is written. You’d be aghast at how many doctors fail to look at what else their patients are taking before prescribing new medications.
- If your physician is too quick to prescribe prescription medications, consider changing doctors or getting a second opinion.
- Read all of the paperwork you get from the pharmacy, including the drug labels, and ask questions about the side effects of any prescription medications. Many patients end up with a pyramid effect—taking new pills to treat the adverse effects of the prescription medications they’re already taking.
Now it’s your turn: Have you been a victim of a doctor who is too quick to push prescription medications?