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Mind-altering drug use spikes among older Americans: study

25 February 2017 No Comment

The number of older Americans taking multiple prescription drugs such as tranquilizers, antidepressants, antipsychotics and painkillers has more than doubled in the past decade, researchers say.

The findings in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Internal Medicine raise concerns about risks to senior health, such as falling, and to public safety due to the potential for impaired driving.

Researchers found that in 2004, 0.6 percent of doctor visits by people over 65 involved three or more drugs that affect the central nervous system.

By 2013, that number had risen to 1.4 percent—which, if applied to the entire U.S. population, would mean 3.68 million doctor visits a year involve seniors taking three or more such brain-changing drugs.

“The rise we saw in these data may reflect the increased willingness of seniors to seek help and accept medication for mental health conditions,” said lead author Donovan Maust, a geriatric psychiatrist at Michigan Medicine, the University of Michigan academic medical center.

“But it’s also concerning because of the risks of combining these medications.”

The US Food and Drug Administration has warned that combining opioid painkillers with certain other drugs used for anxiety and sleep disorders—known as benzodiazepine tranquilizers—can raise the risk of death.

Researchers found the rise was particularly sharp in rural areas, where the rate of doctor visits for multiple drugs more than tripled.

Furthermore, nearly half of seniors taking these drug combinations did not appear to have a formal diagnosis of a mental health condition, insomnia or pain condition, said the report.

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