Overmedication: Overview

Do you get sick often?  Do you find yourself taking more and more medicine to fight illness?  Taking too many medications could put you in a worse state.  Many people today are taking a combination of drugs that can be risky to mix – from blood thinners and cholesterol pills to aspirin.  Here we define polypharmacy as being the taking of 5 or more drugs at the same time.

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The practice of taking more than five different medications at once describes a huge percentage of our clients.  At the time of writing (2010), it is estimated that over 25 million Americans are currently taking five or more pharmaceutical drugs.  The chances of this being safe in terms of drug interactions and side-effects are small.  Even worse, it is almost certain that any given combination of drugs will not have been tested for safety.

To illustrate this mathematically, let us assume there are only 2,000 different drugs on the market.  The number of possible unique combinations of 5 drugs chosen from 2,000 is 265,335,665,000,400.  That's more than 265 trillion which would each need to be tested in studies involving hundreds of people over extended periods of time.  It simply will not happen.  Even if there were only 200 different drugs on the market, the number of unique combinations of 5 is 2,535,650,040.

It is rare when one medicine or medical treatment conclusively resolves a serious chronic medical problem.  It is generally a mistake to try to isolate drugs the way the pharmaceutical companies do and pin hopes on a single medication that cannot possibly address the multiple issues a patient is facing.  They only get away with what they are doing by closing a blind eye to etiologies that they have no intention of dealing with.

Incidence; Causes and Development; Contributing Risk Factors

Research, funded by the National Institutes of Health at the University of Chicago indicates that more than 50 million people are taking more than one drug and that more than half are using at least five remedies.

Roughly 4% (1-in-25) of older adults are potentially at risk of major drug-drug interactions, with cardiovascular medications posing the bulk of the risk, new data show.  The figure comes from a nationwide US survey of 3,005 men and women aged 57 to 85 that also speak to the high proportion of nonprescription medications and supplements being taken by older adults, in combination with prescription drugs.

"In this sample of community-dwelling older adults in the United States, nearly one in 25 reported taking concurrent drugs with the potential for harm from serious drug-drug interactions," wrote the authors, led by Dr Dima M Qato.

In the study a total of 46 interactions were identified, of which 11 were classified as "potentially of major severity," and 28 were classified as "potentially of moderate severity."  Increased risk of bleeding was one of the most common adverse effects when prescription drugs were taken in combination and when prescription drugs were taking in combination with over the counter (OTC) drugs, or OTC drugs were taken along with dietary supplements.  Decreased drug effectiveness, hyperkalemia, myopathy, and rhabdomyolysis were also common.

Whether or not to use combination drug therapy though is no longer the question; rather physicians are now asking which combinations to use for which risk factors.  A focus on combination therapy enables us to encompass and manage multiple risk factors.  Thus multidimensional etiologies call for multiple therapeutic interventions.

The answers though are not to found in the world of pharmaceuticals.  Combination or a protocol approach to medicine is theoretically impossible with pharmaceutical drugs because it is impossible to predict how drugs (often toxic) will mix together to worsen side-effects or create a toxic shock that kills a patient.  Over 100,000 people a year in the US die from properly prescribed medicines.  When we take several drugs simultaneously we only increase the danger that we will fall victim.

Physicians are frequently unaware of their patients' nonprescription medication use because they do not ask patients; patients do not report use of nonprescription medications, or both.

Virtually every medicine can have side-effects, and with so many being used by so many older adults, the potential for harm is high.  Patients need to know that just because lots of medicines don't require prescriptions doesn't mean they're harmless.  Aspirin is a classic example.  When you combine all the different forms of aspirins we are talking about over 15,000 deaths a year in the United States alone.

Americans are being vastly overmedicated for often relatively minor mental health concerns.  This over-reliance on quick-fix medication is numbing the nation and dulling its awareness of real and pressing social issues and of non-psychopharmacological therapies and treatments.

Many older adults take multiple prescription medications, which are commonly prescribed my multiple doctors.  Problems can occur because the doctors prescribing these medications might not know about the other drugs being taken.  This can lead to serious complications stemming from drug interactions.  Drug-drug interactions are not the only type of potentially dangerous drug interactions; there can also be drug interactions with foods, beverages, and dietary supplements.

Drug interactions can reduce the effectiveness of drugs, cause unexpected side-effects, or increase the action of a particular drug.  Drug interactions with food and beverages might result in delayed, decreased, or enhanced absorption of a medication.  Dietary supplements can also cause a variety of drug interactions, and with fifty percent of American adults using dietary supplements (vitamins, minerals, amino acids, herbs or botanicals) on a regular basis, the risk of negative drug interactions is high.

Signs and Symptoms

Many prescription (and over-the-counter) medications have serious side-effects that should be considered before taking them.  Some serious and common side-effects include: allergic reactions, heart problems, liver and kidney failure, weight gain/loss, and psychological effects.

Diagnosis and Tests

There are three rules of thumb to consider before introducing a new drug into your system.

  1. Be Skeptical. Ask yourself, "Is this serious enough for me to resort to medication?"  "Is this a sickness that I will probably get over anyway?"  Really think these questions through before turning to pills.  The fewer pills you take, the better.
  2. Validate The Diagnosis. For syndromes like ADD, there are no clear-cut symptoms that are testable.  Instead, doctors are forced to give their best guess as to whether the disorder is present.  Be doubtful of these diagnoses.  Hold off on taking medication unless you find it absolutely necessary.
  3. Check For Side-Effects. Many times the drug side-effects can be worse than the illness itself.  One drug used to combat Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS), for example, may cause dizziness, nausea, the risk of falling asleep while performing acts such as driving, hallucinations, and compulsive gambling, eating, and sexual desire.  These possibilities seem like a hefty risk for someone who just needs to be rid of uncomfortable sensations in the legs.  In fact, RLS is another disorder which lacks a concrete form of diagnosis.  Keep in mind that pharmacists make a good deal of money off of people who buy medicine to fight the illnesses caused by other medicines.

Treatment and Prevention

We are continuously bombarded with advertisements in the media, from our doctors, and from our politicians that claim drugs are the only way to stay safe from disease.  This is false.  Though it may be comforting to think that taking a pill will make our troubles go away, this is not the reality.

We often forget that our bodies have a remarkable capacity to keep themselves alive.  Inside each of us is a system which acts as our own internal pharmacist, developing new and natural drugs that fight disease.  This system is called the immune system, and it is more sophisticated than any human you can pay to give you medications.

Unfortunately, your immune system can only battle disease if it has practice.  If a large number of the illnesses you develop are cured by foreign remedies, then your immune system will not have the experience to combat more sophisticated viruses.  Sadly, the only way for us to get better is to sometimes allow ourselves to get sick.

In fact, the more medicine you use, the more your immune system is tricked into finding ways to prevent them from doing their job.  In effect, your immune system will fight the cures instead of the diseases!

This is not to say that medicine should be done away with or that it is harmful to us.  Medicine is a useful tool if used sparingly.  Too often, when we get sick, do we feel the need to apply a remedy rather than letting our bodies take care of themselves.

Natural Allopathic medicines like magnesium chloride, sodium bicarbonate, iodine, selenium and many other such substances are easily combined and incorporated by the body because human physiology has been doing that for millions of years, combining nutritional substances we eat.  The substances in Natural Allopathic Medicine are safe to combine because the body needs each one of them for proper function.

Though medication often seems like the best and easiest way out of sickness, it is often better to use more natural remedies such as exercise, eating healthy, and taking vitamins.  Also, when you do use medications, do not assume they will solve your problems alone.  Compliment medicine with healthy activity for the best results.  Overall, it is best to think preventively than to wait for disease to take hold.

Working with your doctor, try as best as you can to remove as many medications from your diet as possible.  Some may be necessary, but look for the ones that are not and gradually reduce your dependence on them.  It is not always easy to get off a medication; however, it could be your first step in boosting your immunity.

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