Guest editorial: Too many drugs can cause harm (Dr. Rita McCracken)

Too much of a good thing can be a bad thing, especially when it comes to prescription drugs. Advances in pharmacology have brought huge benefits in treating and preventing disease and in extending life, but when used improperly or to excess, medications can result in more harm than good.

Research has shown that polypharmacy—the prescribing of multiple medications for one patient, especially seniors—can be harmful. However, the Therapeutics Initiative, a group that provides independent assessments on the safety and effectiveness of pharmaceuticals, has collected statistics that show BC doctors continue to prescribe multiple medications to seniors.

The study by the University of BC-based group shows four per cent of British Columbians age 85 or older have been prescribed 10 or more drugs at once; 31 per cent have been prescribed at least five drugs.

Dr. Rita McCracken, a residential-care physician and associate head of the Department of Family Practice for Providence Health Care in Vancouver, said physicians have been bombarded with reminders about the risks of polypharmacy, “and many of us feel we’ve adapted to this and made changes. The stark realization is we have not even begun to stem the tide of the prescribing wave. Even though sensitivity is being raised, we are still overprescribing.”

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