The major market for the drugs industry is the population aged over 65 years. A recent survey found that 90 per cent of people over 65 took at least one prescription drug, while more than 40 per cent were taking at least five different medications. Alarmingly, 12 per cent were taking 10 drugs a week.
Not surprisingly, serious adverse reactions are commonplace; sadly, as a recent study discovered, nearly a quarter are preventable.
Researchers looked at the records of 27,617 Medicare scheme members in the United States and tracked their history. They discovered that 1,523 were treated as an outpatient with an adverse reaction; of these, 11 were fatal, 136 life threatening, 431 serious and 945 'significant'. But of those, 5 of the fatalities, 72 life-threatening reactions, 167 serious and 177 of the significant reactions were all considered preventable.
Extrapolated across the United States, this suggests there are 1.9m adverse reactions to a drug every year, and there are 180,000 life-threatening or fatal reactions. Of the fatalities, over half are considered preventable.
Reactions can be reduced by more careful prescribing of drugs, and a closer monitoring of the patient once the course has started, say researchers.
(Source: Journal of the American Medical Association, 2003; 289; 1107-1116).