Release date 08/03/2017
YONKERS, NY — Americans are taking more prescription pills than ever before—and more than people in any other country. But Consumer Reports (CR) warns that all those pills may not be necessary and might do more harm than good.
In a cover story for its September issue, Consumer Reports delves into America’s pervasive, expensive, and sometimes harmful, pill habit. The package examines the reasons behind the nation’s ever-increasing use of pills, the growing tide of risk that consumers face—and includes a doctor-approved plan to potentially take fewer medications, avoid dangerous side effects, and feel better.
More than half of Americans now regularly take a prescription medication—four drugs, on average—according to a new, nationally representative CR survey of 1,947 adults. Many in that group also take over-the-counter drugs as well as vitamins and other dietary supplements. Fifty-three percent of those who take prescription drugs get them from more than one healthcare provider, which increases the risk of adverse drug effects. And 35 percent of those taking prescription drugs say a healthcare provider has never reviewed their medicine to see if they can stop any of them.
We can see that when consumers ask if they can stop taking at least one of their medications, in the majority of cases, their doctors agree.
Americans often rush, or get rushed, into taking medications too quickly. For example, doctors sometimes prescribe medications for common problems like insomnia or heartburn without suggesting lifestyle changes first. Or, they diagnose the “pre-disease” state of a condition—for example, mild bone loss or slightly elevated blood pressure—and immediately start a drug regimen instead of starting with lifestyle measures.
For its special report, CR reviewed the medical literature and offered expert advice on how to work with doctors and pharmacists to analyze an individual’s drug regimen. CR reviewed drug lists submitted by 20 Consumer Reports readers to see whether the organization could find problems and did, alerting those readers of the potential risks. CR also dispatched 10 secret shoppers to 45 pharmacies across the U.S. to see how well pharmacists could quickly identify potentially problematic drug interactions.
“We can see that when consumers ask if they can stop taking at least one of their medications, in the majority of cases, their doctors agree,” said Ellen Kunes, Health and Food Content Development Team Leader for Consumer Reports.
12 Times to Try Lifestyle Changes First
Consumer Reports identifies 12 situations where people can try lifestyle changes to address symptoms without the possible side effects of medication; they include: ADHD, back and joint pain, dementia, mild depression, heartburn, insomnia, low testosterone, osteopenia, overactive bladder, prediabetes, prehypertension, and obesity.
The number of prescriptions filled by Americans each year, for both adults and children, has soared by 85 percent over two decades—from 2.4 billion in 1997 to 4.5 billion in 2016 according to the heath research firm Quintile IMS. Meanwhile, the U.S. population increased by only 21 percent during that time.
Much of that medication is lifesaving or at least life-improving. But a lot is not. The amount of harm stemming from inappropriate prescription medication is staggering. Almost 1.3 million people went to U.S. emergency rooms due to adverse drug effects in 2014, and about 124,000 people died from those events, according to estimates based on data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration.
Forty-nine percent of people who regularly take prescription medication asked their prescribers whether they could stop taking a drug, CR’s survey found. Seventy-one percent of them successfully eliminated at least one medication.
CR’s report includes a three-step plan to take more control of your meds, advice on when and how you need a “brown bag” review of your medications from a doctor or pharmacist, and what older adults must know about drug risks.