Carla Moore says the 12 prescriptions she used to take for everything from cholesterol to bone health nearly killed her. “I was so weak, I was so ill, I was in the process of dying,” the 76-year-old says. Each time she returned with a new health complaint, including a side effect from a drug she was taking, she says her doctor — who has since retired from practicing medicine — wrote a new prescription.
Moore spent “well over $1,000” out of pocket annually on her meds, but instead of getting better, she says the drugs only made her feel worse. “They were killing me,” she says. “It’s that short and sweet.”
The Lakewood Ranch, Fla., resident says that all changed after she called Armon Neel, a nationally renowned senior care pharmacist, who has a home-based office in Griffin, Ga. She also started seeing highly rated family practitioner Dr. Josette Grice of Intercoastal Medical Group in Bradenton. She says Neel advised her on the side effects associated with her medications — from muscle weakness to brittle bones — and he teamed up with Grice to drastically reduce the prescriptions she took. The result? Almost all her snowballing health issues dissipated, she says. “I have a life … I wasn’t able to get out of bed before,” Moore says.
Today, Moore takes just three medications: one to control blood pressure, a prescribed dose of potassium and a pill to reduce uric acid to prevent gout, costing a total of $300 to $400 out of pocket annually. “I work out three times a week,” Moore says. “I feel great.”
Pharmacists and geriatricians say the multitude of medications many seniors take to treat health problems ranging from heart disease to diabetes leave some sicker than before, and can lead to serious health complications. “There is no question that we are taking more medications than ever before, and that a disproportionate number of those medications are taken by older adults,” says Dr. Michael McCloud, a highly rated geriatrician based in Davis, Calif., and clinical professor at University of California Davis Health System.
Neel, who co-authored a book titled “Are Your Prescriptions Killing You?” published in 2012, calls it an “epidemic of overmedication.” “If it were classifiable as a cause of death, adverse drug events would rank approximately fifth [in the U.S.],” McCloud adds.
If you take medication, experts prescribe these steps to enhance benefits and reduce risks:
Fill all prescriptions at one pharmacy. Pharmacists check for drug interactions that can cause harm or keep medications from working properly; these can be missed if you get medication from multiple pharmacies. If you must get some drugs by mail order or elsewhere, make sure your pharmacists are aware of those, too.
Compile your medications. Whether you put them in a bag or jot down drug names on a list, make sure your primary care provider and pharmacist know everything you take. Include over-the-counter medications, vitamins and herbal supplements, which can also interact with prescriptions.
Consult with a pharmacist. Before starting any new medications, get all your questions answered. When will it begin working? What are the side effects? How should I take it? Then use as directed.
Inquire about drugs that pose higher risk. Your pharmacist should flag any medications considered “potentially inappropriate” for patients 65 and older. Double check if you’re not sure and ask about safer alternatives.
Downsize your pill pile. Talk to health providers about appropriate ways to reduce meds or dosages and non-drug alternatives, such as lifestyle changes