The number of the day: 11%
That's right, kiddos. The number of the day is 11%--the probability of randomly picking Grumpy if Snow White, the Seven Dwarves, and Prince Charming all sit down for tea... or, in this case, the 11% of people in the US, according to the CDC, who are taking five or more prescribed medicines.
You read that right. One in nine Americans is taking five or more prescription drugs. In the medical world we call that "polypharmacy," and it makes the doctor's job a lot harder. Each new medicine that is introduced into your body increases the chance of drug-drug interactions with undesirable side effects. While practitioners receive extensive training on how these drugs interact and which ones not to combine, there still remains a risk associated with polypharmacy. The more possible interactions, the more likely it is that a doctor might miss one. That becomes even more likely when the evidence on drug interactions can be flawed, incomplete, or falsified. Having so many people on so many drugs is practically begging for errors to happen.
Such a suggestion is made by Jeanne Lenzer in a recent article published in the BMJ. Lenzer cited a report from the Institute for Safe Medication Practices (ISMP) which "calculated that in 2011 prescription drugs were associated with two to four million people in the US experiencing serious, disabling, or fatal injuries, and 128,000 deaths."
Leading this pack of oft-misused drugs are anticoagulants like warfarin, which the authors report "prevents ischemic strokes in approximately 1% of high risk patients a year, but causes major bleeding in an estimated 3%." Other harm-causing drugs include an antibiotic (levofloxacin); a cancer drug (carboplatin) and a hypertension drug (lisinopril).
Numbers like 11% suggest that we need to re-evaluate the safety and effectiveness of many "standard" practices. Numbers like 11% contribute to the staggering 128,000 deaths associated with prescription drugs--that's 10 times the number of people killed in drunk driving accidents each year. It's not surprising, then, that ISMP calls prescribed medicines "one of the most significant perils to human health resulting from human activity." We have Mothers Against Drunk Driving, but maybe it's time for Mothers Against Profligate Prescription.