The New York Times today had an article by Jane Brody describing the phenomenon of polypharmacy: simply put, too many drugs, whether prescription, over-the-counter, or both. It's a particular problem in elderly patients, who suffer from multiple conditions, and who often see multiple doctors who don't know what other drugs patients are taking. Those drugs often interact, producing additional morbidity and even death.
Here are some sobering data describing the incidence of polypharmacy:
Polypharmacy is responsible for up to 28 percent of hospital admissions and, he added, if it were classified as such, it would be the fifth leading cause of death in the United States.Polypharmacy can even occur when doctors do know what other doctors have prescribed, but are afraid to override other doctors' decisions. There's an increasingly useful role for consultant pharmacists, who, despite their superior training in identifying potential interactions, often come into conflict with physicians when they question prescriptions.
I'm glad, however, that the term "polypharmacy" is now out there in the New York Times. Increased awareness of polypharmacy is one way in which patients and their families can be better advocates for their own care. Changing the culture of medicine and reducing the fragmentation of health care to reduce risk of polypharmacy are, again, as we all know, different stories entirely.