Studies have clearly shown that lowering the number of medications taken by people over 65 significantly reduces accidental deaths and extends the life of this cohort by nearly 40%. Whether from overdose, misuse or unwanted side effects, research has revealed that far too many seniors are taking way too many drugs. Yet the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) recently cited that prescriptions for multiple drugs affecting the central nervous system are on the rise. These include opioids, anti-anxiety medications, antidepressants, sleep aids, and antipsychotic drugs.
What makes this noteworthy – even alarming – is the fact that the number of seniors being prescribed these medications has more than doubled (tripled in rural areas), even though at least half of these seniors have no diagnosis. Even worse – many of these patients are being prescribed not just one, but at least three psychiatric drugs despite the FDA issuing warnings against combining such drugs. Additionally, most doctors fail to use a physician’s cross-check guide or monitoring database before handing out an additional prescription and rarely, if ever, look for signs of abuse and addiction.
This significant increase came to light by 2004 when Congress passed the Controlled Substances Act (CSA).CSA is the statute establishing federal U.S. drug policy under which the production and prescribing of certain substances is regulated; prior to this, patients had easy access to any number of mind-altering and pain-relieving drugs from their doctors. To put it in perspective, these numbers translate to approximately 3.68 million people aged 65 and older taking three or more psychotropic drugs. The side effects to each of these types of drugs can be extremely severe and even lead to death, especially when taken in combination.
Although the AMA recognizes this ongoing trend and the FDA has issued a black-box warning against the prescription of multiple central nervous system medications, there is not yet a full understanding as to why these drugs are being prescribed so frequently, especially to patients who don’t present with symptoms warranting such dangerous medications. Is it because doctors are so pressed for time in their appointments with patients that offering a new prescription is the fastest solution? Or because masking the real problem with a drug is simpler than doing the hard work of healing? These drugs are meant to be used as short-term interventions while the detective work is under way, not as quick-fix solutions.
Regardless of why this is happening, the fact is that even when a patient is having trouble sleeping, having pain issues or feeling depressed, drugs are not the answer. A medication is merely an ineffective bandage, not a solution to the problem. While a medication may help for a short time, the problem typically returns with additional issues attached to it, either because of the medication or because the underlying condition has worsened.
The only way to improve a patient’s quality of life and heal or improve a health problem is by getting to the root cause of the issue, not by temporarily covering up symptoms. There are no one-size-fits-all solutions to healing, and multiple medications are not the answer. Generic blood tests don’t provide enough information; more comprehensive testing along with an individual’s medical history and an understanding of lifestyle and diet all need to be considered. Only then can each person’s path to wellness be discovered.