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WKYT Investigates: The dangers of polypharmacy

By: Stacy Ellison Email
By: Stacy Ellison Email

LEXINGTON, Ky. (WKYT) - It seems like these days, there's a medicine for whatever ails you.

However, as people get older, they could end up taking more medicine than they need.

That could be a deadly decision.

This story idea came from a viewer who contacted WKYT's Stacy Ellison on her Facebook page. The viewer said her mother had kidney failure due to drug interactions.

It's not an isolated incident. On the AARP website, it's estimated there are more than 100,000 deaths each year due to drug interactions.

When Ursula Mullins' mother, Mildred, had a stroke, the roles of caregiver and caretaker reversed in the blink of an eye.

"It was sudden and unexpected, since she was so young and that changed life as we know it, " Ursula Mullins said.

Already on medications to control Hypertension, Mullins' mother now has to take a number of other drugs, with different doses and different schedules.

"Two times a day turned to three times a day and now it's five times a day," Mullins said.

With Mildred's memory problems, it was overwhelming.

"It now all falls on my shoulders," Ursula Mullins said.

Dr. Timothy Caudill of the University of Kentucky sees patients overwhelmed with multiple prescriptions every day. His average patient is on at least three or four different medications.

Caudill says with an aging population and an influx of new drugs claiming to cure it all, the challenge of polypharmacy is growing.

"Diabetics are especially prone because they are taking meds for that, and usually hypertension and cholesterol," Caudill said.

Throw in over the counter medicine for aches and pains or aspirin therapy, and a patient can be in dangerous territory.

Dr. Caudill says there are some simple steps to take for patients or their caregivers to help keep the risk down from multiple medications. He says first, you should keep track of what you're taking, and why.

"I review meds regularly and find sometimes they don't need that one anymore," Caudill said.

Second, make sure your doctor knows what over the counter medicines you regularly take, including herbal and dietary supplements.

If possible, doctors say simplifying the regime can be crucial to make sure medicines are most effective and safe.

Filling prescriptions at one pharmacy also lets the pharmacist be another line of defense.

Both Dr. Caudill and Ursula Mullins say doctor-patient relationships are critical to minimizing polypharmacy and keeping patients safe.

It's estimated the average American is prescribed medications about 13 times each year.

Advances in electronic medical records have also helped doctors keep more accurate records about patient medications.


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