When a doctor prescribes a drug, we naturally assume it is safe. After all, the doctor is the expert. Yet a new study has found that doctors across the U.S. are routinely prescribing potentially harmful drugs to senior patients. How is this happening?

As the body ages, the ability to metabolize drugs slows down. This means that a drug stays in the system for a longer period of time and has a more intense effect. This increases the risk of harmful drug side effects.

The non-profit National Committee for Quality Assurance (NCQA) has compiled a list of 110 prescription drugs that should not be prescribed to elderly patients. Many of these are common medications—such as the anti-anxiety drug Valium—that are perfectly safe when taken by younger patients, but can have dangerous or even fatal effects when used in patients over the age of 65. Valium can cause extreme sedation in the elderly. This can lead to falls and potentially fatal injuries. Xanax is a safer alternative.

Researchers from the Alpert Medical School at Brown University looked at prescription data for more than six million men and women over the age of 65 who were enrolled in Medicare Advantage plans. They found that 21 percent (1.3 million) of the participants had been prescribed a medication from the NCQA list. Five percent of the participants had been prescribed two or more high-risk medications.

Participants who lived in the South were most likely to be prescribed a dangerous drug; 38 percent of Medicare Advantage enrollees from Albany, Georgia received at least one dangerous drug. But there’s good news for Iowa residents: the city with the lowest rate of risky drug prescriptions was Mason City, Iowa. Only 10 percent of Mason City senior study participants received prescriptions from the NCQA list.

You can check the NCQA list of medications to be avoided by the elderly here.

If you have suffered a dangerous reaction from a prescription medication, of if a loved one has died from an inappropriate medicine, you may be able to receive monetary compensation for medical bills and other damages through an Iowa drug injury lawsuit. To learn more, contact the Des Moines personal injury lawyers at Hupy and Abraham at 515-984-0091, or call our toll-free number 1-800-800-5678.

Jason F. Abraham
Managing Partner, Hupy and Abraham
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