Fifty-one percent of American adults take two or more pills each day—a prescription drug, an over-the-counter drug, or a vitamin or herbal supplement—according to a new survey.  And nearly half, 46 percent, said they were taking an average of nearly three prescription medications a week.  Predictably, more people tended to take more prescriptions, as they grow older.

Seventy-nine percent of respondents over age 65 reported taking at least one prescription drug each day, vs. 28 percent of those 44 or younger.  The survey of 1,000 adults was conducted for the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists, which represents pharmacists who practice in hospitals and other health care institutions.  Those conducting the survey did not attempt to track the cost of medications.

But other government and industry surveys indicate Americans are spending well over $120 billion a year for medicine and dietary supplements.  The survey also found that about 8 percent of people entering a hospital do not report to doctors or nurses the medications they are taking. 

Besides prescriptions, the survey found that 58 percent of respondents had taken an average of two nonprescription medications, including vitamins and supplements, in the past week.  Forty percent said they were taking an average of two herbal supplements or vitamins daily.  “This shows consumers are simultaneously using a variety of prescription and nonprescription medications,” said Mick Hunt, president of the society.  “We want patients to be aware of the potential for drug interactions that can occur when mixing all these remedies, especially when taking multiple medications  each day.”

Women were more likely than men to report taking a prescription medication in the past week, 55 percent vs. 37 percent.  Women’s regular use of over-the-counter drugs and supplements as also greater than men’s by similar margins.  Among people who had taken a prescription in the past week, 61 percent said it was for the long-term treatment of a medical problem, with just 10 percent saying they took a drug for short-term treatment.  The rest said they took prescriptions periodically for a recurring problem.

The pharmacists recommended that consumers:

  • Keep a list of all medications, including nonprescription remedies and home remedies, that they take and share the information with their health-care provider.
  • Keep medications organized to avoid taking double doses
  • Be honest about how much and how often they actually take medications for any remedy.
  • Learn the names of prescribed drug products as well as dosage strengths and schedules.
  • Find out if there are any foods, drinks, other medicines or activities that should be avoided when taking a prescribed medication and ask for written information about a drug.
  • Be alert to unexpected changes, like a prescription refill that seems to have a different strength or appearance from the original drug. Question anything that doesn't seem right.
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