Adults 62-85 are often taking combinations of drug or dietary supplements that could be deadly; risk nearly doubled in 5 years

Update: 4/4/16, This story has been updated to reflect that the study says the number of adults using at least five prescription drugs a day has increased and not the average older American is using at least five prescription drugs a day.

The number of older Americans at risk of potentially life-threatening drug interactions almost doubled between 2005 and 2011, according to a study from the University of Illinois at Chicago.

“One in six older adults now regularly use potentially deadly combinations of prescription and over-the-counter medications and dietary supplements, a two-fold increase over a five year period,” says the release.

More than half the potentially deadly interactions involved a non-prescription medication or dietary supplement such as a vitamin. The study found that older adults have increased their use of vitamins and supplements, despite limited evidence of their clinical benefit.

The study, published in JAMA Internal Medicine, examined changes in medication use in more than 2,000 adults aged 62 to 85 between 2005 and 2011.

Fifteen potentially life-threatening drug combinations of the most commonly used medications and supplements were identified, and the study found nearly 15 percent of older adults in 2011 used at least one of these dangerous combinations, up from 8 percent in 2005.

The study found that older adults have grown more fond of non-prescription medications and supplements: 63.7 percent of older adults used them in 2011, up from 51.8 percent in 2005. Older adults using at least five prescription medications increased to 35.8 percent from 30.6 percent in the same time period.

The most common life-threatening interaction identified by the study was cholesterol-lowering drugs (statins), drugs used to prevent blood clots (anti-platelet drugs) and omega-3 fish oil supplements.


“Many older patients seeking to improve their cardiovascular health are also regularly using interacting drug combinations that may worsen cardiovascular risk,” one of the researchers said in a news release.

The researchers encourage health-care providers to carefully consider adverse effects of combining prescription and nonprescription medications when treating older adults, and to counsel patients about the risks. Older adults should also ask their pharmacists about potential drug interactions.

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