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Inside E Street

Too Many Meds

How prescription drug miscommunications and misuse endanger the elderly

En español | Nearly 90 percent of people over 60 take at least one prescription drug; 30 percent take five or more. When multiple doctors and pharmacies issue the prescriptions — a situation known as "polypharmacy" — overmedication and dangerous reactions can occur, especially in the elderly. Over-the-counter drugs can put patients at further risk.

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Mature man sitting with table of multiple prescribed medications

— Photo by Joel Sartore

A guideline known as the "Beers Criteria" details potentially inappropriate medications for older Americans. Although the list has recently been updated by American Geriatrics Society experts using new methodology, it is still merely a guideline — patients, doctors and pharmacists must work together to find the best and safest drug treatments.

This week, Inside E Street explores the threat of prescription drug overuse in the elderly and how you can safeguard yourself and your family.


Thomas E. Finucane, M.D., professor of Medicine Division of Geriatric Medicine and Gerontology, School of Medicine; Johns Hopkins University

Todd Semla, Pharm D., associate professor of Clinical Medicine-General Internal Medicine, Northwestern Feinberg School of Medicine

Barbara Paris, M.D., vice chair of Medicine and director, Division of Geriatric Services, Maimonides Medical Center, Brooklyn, N.Y.

More Information

Must for Seniors

American Geriatrics Society: Beers Criteria (PDF)

Also of interest: Find info on drug interactions and side effects.

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