Medicines Cause Harm
By Carolyn M.
December 7, 2010
We take more
medicines than ever to maintain or improve our
health. But over the last decade, many baby
boomers and seniors have ended up in the
hospital because the medications they expected
to help them actually hurt them.
problems now can be treated with medicines that
were not available just a few years ago. But
taking more medicines can also result in some
unexpected reactions, especially for people who
take several drugs. Bad reactions to medications
are on the rise, according to a
new report by my agency, the Agency for
Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ).
Between 1997 and
2008, hospital admissions doubled among
Americans aged 45 and older for medication and
drug-related conditions. These hospital
admissions include the effects of prescription
and over-the-counter medicines as well as
This increase has
been driven by three types of medication and
Drug-induced delirium, which is general
confusion and agitation caused by drugs.
Common causes are drugs for sleeping,
nausea, and pain. Elderly patients are more
sensitive to medicines than younger adults.
Poisoning or overdose from codeine and other
narcotic medicines. Bad reactions
from narcotic pain medicines are especially
common in older adults.
Withdrawal from prescribed medicines or
illegal drugs. Drug withdrawal
occurs when someone suddenly stops or takes
much less of a drug after being on it for a
We’re working to
prevent hospital admissions due to medication
use. Together with the U.S. Food and Drug
Administration, AHRQ oversees a
program that identifies medication problems
and finds solutions.
You can lower
your chance of problems with your medication.
First, don’t take medicine that is not
prescribed for you. Also, remember that it is
not safe to drink alcohol when you take medicine
for sleeping, pain, anxiety, or depression.
As we age, drugs
can affect us differently. We may need to change
medications or adjust dosages. As an active
health care consumer, talk with your doctor
about your medications, how they work, and
potential side effects. Don’t be afraid to ask
questions. Many medication errors are discovered
To reduce your
chances of complications from medicine, use this
Bring a list or a bag with all your
medicines when you go to your doctor’s
office, the pharmacy, or the hospital.
Include all prescription and
over-the-counter medicines, vitamins, and
herbal supplements. Remind your doctor and
pharmacist if you are allergic to any
questions. Ask your doctor or
pharmacist to use plain language. It may
also help to write down the answers or bring
a friend or relative with you.
sure your medicine is what the doctor
ordered. Many drugs look alike and
have names that sound alike. Check with your
doctor or pharmacist to be sure you have the
right medicine. If you are getting a refill
and the medicine looks different, ask the
pharmacist about it.
Learn how to take medicine correctly.
Read the directions on the label and other
paperwork you get with your medicine.
Medicine labels can be hard to understand.
Ask your pharmacist or doctor to explain
anything you do not understand. Are there
other medicines, foods, or activities (such
as driving, drinking alcohol, or using
tobacco) that you should avoid while using
the medicine? For example, ask if "four
doses daily" means taking a dose exactly
every six hours or just during regular
waking hours. Ask what "take as needed"
out about possible side effects.
Many drugs have side effects. Some side
effects may bother you at first but will get
better later. Others may be serious. If a
side effect does not get better, talk to
your doctor. You may need a different dose
or a different medicine.
medicines work for you-not against you. By
taking steps to get the best results from your
medicines, you can help prevent problems.
I’m Dr. Carolyn
Clancy, and that’s my advice on how to navigate
the health care system.
Prescriptions: Play it Safe (Transcript) Podcast
20 Tips to
Help Prevent Medical Errors
Hospitalizations for Medication and Illicit
Drug-related Conditions on the Rise among
Americans Ages 45 and Older
Safe Use of Medicines for Seniors
Current as of December 2010
Don’t Let Medicines Cause Harm.
Navigating the Health Care System: Advice
Columns from Dr. Carolyn Clancy, December 7,
2010. Agency for Healthcare Research and
Quality, Rockville, MD. http://www.ahrq.gov/consumer/cc/cc120710.htm