Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Mixing Prescription Drugs and Supplements Poses Risks to Elders

Mixing prescription drugs with vitamins and other supplements poses risks, especially to elders on multiple medications. Mixing prescriptions with supplements can be harmful, especially for patients who take the blood thinner warfarin, or drugs for high blood pressure that can be dangerous when mixed with potassium supplements.

According to a recent survey, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, over fifty percent of adults mix some sort of prescription drug with over-the-counter supplements. Four out of five American adults take at least one prescription drug that could potentially cause harm when mixed with prescription medication. Use of prescriptions is highest among elders age 75 to 85. Fifty percent of older adults take five or more prescriptions.

Dima M. Qato, Pharm.D. M.P.H., of the University of Chicago, and colleagues write, "Several factors have likely contributed to this increase in the rate of [the use of five or more medications] among older adults over the last decade. These include intensification of therapy for common chronic medical conditions (e.g., diabetes, cardiovascular disease), increased access to medications because of policy changes (e.g., Medicare Part D and assistance programs), and growth of the generic drug market." The increase in prescription medicine use over the last decade is cause for concern because many supplements have not been studied for their interaction with prescribed drugs.

Though most supplements do not cause harm when mixed with prescriptions, the study authors believe the issue deserves attention. "Our findings suggest that concurrent use of prescription and nonprescription medications in older adults remains a public health problem and could be an important focal point for further improvements in drug safety for seniors."

By identifying popular supplements, the researchers hope to establish a pattern of use that can be used to ensure safety when physicians prescribe medications.

They conclude, "Medications are a critical modality for prolongation of life and improved quality of life for many older adults. By establishing patterns of prescription and nonprescription medication use among older adults, these data may help support efforts to increase the safety and quality of pharmacotherapy for older adults."

If you take supplements, it is important to let your doctor know. Many physicians simply forget to ask what, if any, supplements are being used by their patients. It is never a good idea to mix prescription drugs with vitamins and other supplements without first discussing the pros and cons with your doctor. The new study shows there is a growing concern about the effects of taking multiple prescriptions mixed with supplements that may have unknown risks to elders. ◦