Savvy Psychopharmacology

Polypharmacy in older adults

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Factors that increase the risks of OTC medications

Although older adults account for only 15% of the present population, they purchase 40% of all OTC medications.4 These patients may inadvertently use OTC medications containing unnecessary or potentially harmful active ingredients because of unfamiliarity with the specific product, variability among products, or decreased health literacy. According to research presented at a 2010 Institute of Medicine Workshop on Safe Use Initiative and Health Literacy, many patients have a limited understanding of OTC medication indications and therapeutic duplication.5 For example, researchers found that almost 70% of patients thought they could take 2 products containing the same ingredient.5 Most patients were not able to determine the active ingredients or maximum daily dose of an OTC medication. Patients who were older, had lower literacy, or were African American were more likely to misunderstand medication labeling.5 Additional literature suggests that up to 20% of medical admissions can be attributed to adverse effects of OTC medications.6

Misconceptions regarding dietary supplements

The use of alternative and complementary medicine also is on the rise among geriatric patients.7-9 A recent study found that 70% of older adults in the United States consumed at least 1 dietary supplement in the past 30 days, with 29% consuming ≥4 natural products. Women consumed twice as many supplements as men.10

The perceived safety of natural medicines and dietary supplements is a common and potentially dangerous misconception.11 Because patients typically assume dietary supplements are safe, they often do not report their use to their clinicians, especially if clinicians do not explicitly ask them about supplement use.12 This is especially concerning because the FDA does not have the authority to review or regulate natural medicines or dietary supplements.13,14

With no requirements or regulations regarding quality control of these products, the obvious question is: “How do patients know what they’re ingesting?” The uncertainty regarding the true composition of dietary supplements is a cause for concern because federal regulations do not provide a standard way to verify the purity, quality, and safety. As a result, there is a dearth of information regarding drug–dietary supplement interactions and drug–dietary supplement–disease state interactions.8,15

OTC medications and potential medication interactions

What to watch for

Table 116-22 outlines OTC medication classes and potential medication and/or disease state interactions. Table 223-45 outlines potential interactions between select dietary supplements, medications, and disease states. Here we discuss several of these potential interactions based on the medications that Mrs. B was taking.

Dietary supplements and potential medication interactions

Continue to: Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)


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