U.S. needs to tackle 'medication overload'

Australia, Canada, and EU have programs to deal with polypharmacy

The U.S. should follow the example of Canada, Australia, and the European Union by making a concerted effort to reduce "medication overload"— the unnecessary and sometimes harmful prescribing of multiple medications at once—argue Shannon Brownlee and Terry Fulmer in a Health Affairs blog post published earlier this week.

Medication overload is an aspect of polypharmacy, which Brownlee and Fulmer say is usually defined as taking five or more medications at a time. By some counts, more than 40% of older Americans are taking five or more prescription medications. Each additional drug increases the risk of harm, say Brownlee and Fulmer, and they cite a statistic that every day an average of 750 Americans, ages 65 and older, are hospitalized for an adverse drug event from one or ore medications.

Canada and Australia have "deprescribing networks" of researchers, clinicians, and advocates that share information about safely reducing the number of medications that people are take, according to Brownlee and Fulmer. The European Union Health Program created the SIMPATHY Project to review and correct polypharmacy problems.