More Older Adults Using Potentially Deadly Drug Combinations

Drug Combinations | Just Believe Recovery PA

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More Older Adults Using Potentially Deadly Drug Combinations

According to a recent study from the University of Illinois at Chicago, 1 in 6 older and elderly adults use drug combinations which may be dangerous or deadly. That’s twice the number reported just 5 years ago. These combinations may consist of over-the-counter medications and supplements, as well as prescription drugs.

A changes in medication from a nationally represented sample of adults between the ages of 62-85 were analyzed. Rather that simply rely on prescription data, at-home interviews were conducted. This allowed researchers to gather accurate information about OTC medications, as well.

The study revealed an increase from 30.6% to nearly 36% of these adults using at least 5 prescription medicines. This indicates a status known as “polypharmacy”.

It is believed that a number of factors are involved, including treatment guidelines alterations, Medicare Part D implementation, and the ever-increasing availability of less expensive generic drugs.

Drugs of Concern

Among the most commonly used prescription medicine by these adults is Zocor (simvastiatin). It is used to lower cholesterol and reduce the risk of strokes and cardiac arrest. It became available in generic form in 2006, and usage more than doubled from 10.3% to 22.5%.

In addition, dietary supplements are becoming more popular among older adults – although there is little evidence of benefit. An increase from 51.8% to nearly 64% was found, with a 50% increase in adults using more than one supplement. Omega-3 fish oil usage increased the most, almost quadrupling from 4.7% in 2005 to 18.6% 5 years later.

Among those combinations, 15 potentially deadly concoctions were identified. Almost 15% of aging adults used at least one of these drug combinations in 2011, nearly twice that of 2005 (8%). Over half of the possible interactions included the use of a non-prescription medicine or dietary supplement. The majority of these combinations involved cholesterol-reducing drugs such as simvastitin, blood-clot preventing drugs such as aspirin, and omega-3 fish oils.

According to the report, these interactions may sabotage any potential cardiovascular benefits originally intended by these medications. For example, clopidogrel (Plavix) the anti-platelet medication, when used with proton-pump inhibitors (anti-heartburn medications such as Prilosec), aspirin, or naproxen sodium (Alleve) may increase the risk of heart attack, bleeding complications, or death.

And yes, nearly 1 million aging adults (nearly 2%) use this medication in combination with potentially interacting OTC medicine or supplements.

Based on this revelation, health care professionals and older adults should be advised of the potential risks of taking prescription medications with certain other drugs and supplements. While it is not known how many adults actually die of such interactions, awareness is important if any potentially serious effects and fatalities are to be averted.


As someone who works with older persons (adult foster care) it is troubling to see how many older and elderly adults really are on so many of these drug combinations. And in some cases, the use of aspirin, prescription painkillers, and omega-3 fish oils are indicated by physicians in addition to the medications. Patients need to be aware of the risks vs. benefits, and I’m not sure that is happening as often as it should.

~ G. Nathalee Serrels, M.A., Psychology

Related: Myth Busting: Red Wine Not Really Healthy

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