Pills for Life: Are They Worth It? See What Experts Say About Prescription Pros and Cons

In 2008, a study conducted by Medco Health Solutions found that over 51 percent of Americans were taking at least one prescription drug for a chronic condition. The same study showed that three out of four people aged 65 and older were taking at least one medication, while 22 percent of men and 28 percent of women in that age group were taking five or more medicines regularly. Today, those numbers are higher.

Individuals aged 65-69 take nearly 14 prescriptions per year, according to the American Society of Consultant Pharmacists. Those aged 80-84 take an average of 18 prescriptions each year. In this article, we’ll look at why prescription medication use is rising, which illnesses and their drugs are most common, and the adverse effects you will want to be aware of from these drugs.

The Good and Bad in Increased Prescription Drug Use

One important piece of good news is that researchers and drug companies have made it possible to treat what used to be fatal diseases such as AIDS, some cancers, hemophilia, sickle-cell disease, many heart conditions, etc. Moreover, prescription drugs can be relatively effective and safe for common illnesses. According to the 2008 AHA (American Heart Association) president, Daniel W. Jones, M.D, “More people are now taking blood pressure and cholesterol-lowering medicines because they need them”. However, it doesn’t have to be that way, even if we do have better medicines for chronic conditions.

Most Common Illnesses and Their Drug Treatments

Since more than half of Americans take a chronic medication, the following (in descending order) are the top illness categories for which medications are used: diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, stomach acid, asthma, depression, mental and neurological disorders, pain control, infections, and “other.”

Benefits of taking any prescription drug must outweigh the risks of not taking it. Remember that some side effects can just be bothersome, while others can be dangerous. In either case, if you are the one taking the drug then it is you who must be informed and vigilant. Remember also that you increase your drug-drug interactions the more drugs you are taking concurrently.

Diabetes Mellitus

  • Insulin (short, medium, long acting)
  • Sulfonylureas (glipizide, glyburide, glymepiride)
  • Biguanides (metformin)
  • Alpha-glucosidase inhibitors (acarbose, miglitol)
  • Thiazolidinediones (pioglitazone)
  • Glinides (Prandin, Starlix)
  • Incretin mimetics (exenatide)
  • DPP-4 inhibitors (sitagliptin)
  • Amylin analogue (pramlintide)

Cholesterol and Heart Disease Risk Reduction Drugs

  • Statins (Lipitor, Zocor, etc.)
  • Bile acid binding resins (Colestid, Questran, Welchol)
  • Cholesterol absorption inhibitor (ezetimibe)
  • Fibrates (gemfibrozil, fenofibrate)
  • Niacin (prescription) (Niaspan)

High Blood Pressure and Heart Disease Risk Reduction

  • Thiazide diuretics (hydrochlorothiazide)
  • Loop diuretics (furosemide)
  • Potassium-sparing diuretics (spironolactone)
  • Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors (lisinopril)
  • Angiotensin-receptor blockers (ARB) (candesartan)
  • Calcium channel blockers (amlodipine)
  • Beta blockers (metoprolol, propranolol)
  • Alpha-1 blockers (doxazosin, prazosin, terazosin)
  • Centrally acting agents (clonidine, methyldopa)
  • Direct-acting vasodilators (Hydralazine, Minoxidil)

In the following week, we will discuss medications prescribed for stomach acid/GERD, asthma/COPD, depression, mental disorders, pain control, and infections. By being informed and vigilant, one can balance the benefits and risks of taking prescription drugs and ultimately lead a healthy life with or without them.