Around 20 per cent of adults are taking five or more pharmaceuticals a day-but nobody has assessed the side effects and reactions to this chemical cocktail, a leading scientist has warned.
Although drug companies have to list possible side effects of individual remedies, they do not assess what the effects could be when several drugs are mixed together, Dr Angela Coulter, senior research scientist at Oxford University, says.
Half of the over-50s is taking at least one drug, and this increases dramatically as we get older. Hospital medical charts now have space for 30 different medications.
In the UK, around one billion prescriptions are written annually, which suggests every doctor is issuing 45,000 every year to patients, says Simon Maxwell, professor of pharmacology at Edinburgh University. This equates to 18 drugs for every person living in the UK, which means that many elderly are taking even more than that each day.
This poly-pharmacy, as it's known, has come about because doctors hand out pills without thinking, and the fragmented nature of the UK's National Health Service (NHS) often means people are taking drugs long beyond the point when they need to.
It's also down to a miscommunication between doctor and patient-where the doctor assumes the patient wants a prescription when the patient often just wants to understand his or her problem-and a misunderstanding about the effectiveness of drugs.
"You've got a one in 25 chance of being better off with a statin than not, but I would posit a lot of people would think this is a bad deal to reduce that risk by just four per cent," says Prof Maxwell.
"Few doctors take the large numbers of medicines they prescribe. If I get to 95, I don't want a statin anywhere near me."
(Source: Cheltenham Science Festival, June 4, 2015)