Are Americans overmedicating?

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SARASOTA, Fla. -- Recent statistics show 50% of Americans are taking prescription medication, and many of them here on the Suncoast are seniors. So are we overmedicating the population?

Heart disease, high blood pressure and arthritis…chances are if you're a senior, you are taking several medications for one of the many medical problems associated with aging. But how many medications are too many?

Suncoast resident Louise Cottom has several medical conditions, including high blood pressure, a low resting heart rate and epilepsy. “When you have a grand mal seizure, the floor is very hard, it jumps up and hits you in the face.”

She's your average senior consumer, taking the average amount of prescription medications. “At least a dozen.”

Then there's Arch Carmichael. “I'm a hundred and one as of last Thursday, May the first.” He is the exception to the rule. “I'm on high blood pressure right now, and I've only been on it for a month.”

He has good check-ups and only the one med. “I feel good, so why should I take medicine?”

Dr. Louis Cohen of Lerner Cohen Healthcare says we've long been aware that for many years there's a problem with overmedication and seniors. “Call it a new epidemic, call it a significant problem; healthcare issues revolve around not only illnesses, but also around problems caused by people taking medications, and taking too many medications.”

But we are a society that likes a quick fix, he says. “Why not take a pill if a pill exists that can cure your problem? It's much more difficult to lose thirty pounds, it's much more difficult to exercise, it's much more difficult to watch your blood pressure and your diet.”

Compounding pharmacist Mike Pass says only a few mixed medications may cause problems. “If you take anything more than two or three, there almost is a certainty that there are drug interactions.”

Managing correct dosage, keeping track of pills and meds, and being compliant are other concerns, says Pass. But for some, multiple medication isn't a choice and sometimes something simple may help. “This is a pill box, right? And this can organize your pills by time and by day.”

Carmichael says this is why many take many medications. “They take a pill because the doctor ordered them the pill. If you go to a doctor because you've got something, you usually do what he says.”

He says it's not just a senior problem. “Your generation will take it, too. I know lots of young people who are taking a pile of medicine.”