December 28, 2004


Rising prescription drug use points to deeper problems: Balancing medication for minor and serious ailments is a challenge amid an aging, heavier populace and aggressive marketing tactics. (Elizabeth Large, December 27, 2004, Baltimore Sun)

When Margaret Herlth wakes up in the morning, 13 prescription drugs and two over-the-counter supplements are as much a part of her routine as a first cup of coffee. That's a lot of pills, but not a highly unusual number for an 80-year-old with serious health problems, including cardiovascular disease and breathing difficulties.

"They do make me feel better if I take them," says Herlth, who lives in southwest Baltimore. "I've been in and out of the hospital so many times. Each time they give me new pills, but they never take any away."

These days, if you're elderly, a medicine cabinet full of prescription drugs is par for the course. But even relatively young, healthy adults may be prescribed medicine as a preemptive strike to lower their cholesterol and blood pressure, to deal with a touch of arthritis, to ward off osteoporosis, to stop the symptoms of seasonal allergies or to fight depression.

Many people add to the list by taking herbal supplements. They also reach for the Advil bottle at the first sign of a headache and chew antacids when they get heartburn.

This month, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported its latest data on prescription drug use. The agency estimates that nearly half of all Americans take at least one prescription drug and one in six takes at least three. Over the last decade, the percentage of people taking one or more prescription medicines has increased from 39% to 44%.

We're a medicated society, of course. But the sheer number of drugs we take suggests that we may be an overmedicated society.


Posted by Orrin Judd at December 28, 2004 8:34 AM

Each time they give me new pills, but they never take any away.

This is a key point: if you are taking more than one prescription for a chronic condition, and particularly if your prescriptions come from more than one doctor, sit down with your gp at least once a year and go over all your prescriptions, which you should bring with you.

Posted by: David Cohen at December 28, 2004 9:18 AM