The Prescription You Do Not Need

Among the clues that one is no longer young can be proliferation of prescription drugs in the medicine cabinet. In this age of miracle drugs you do not even have to be “older” to be taking a regimen of four, five, or more prescriptions, daily. Aggravating this tendency for Americans to take more and more prescriptions is the fact that there is no central registry of an individual’s prescriptions, so doctors are often unaware of all the drugs a patient is taking.

Once, while volunteering as a drug crisis counselor in the ‘70s, I was called to the home of a factory worker. This was unusual because most of our calls were for overdoses of psychedelics or “downers” by students and those who tuned in, turned on and dropped out.

The man was sitting at his dining room table staring out at his back yard, catatonic. He had been seeing a large number of psychiatrists, who all gave him prescriptions for strong mood-altering drugs. His wife showed us a large toiletry bag holding dozens of psychotropic prescriptions. It was no wonder he was in the o-zone.

In 40 years there has been little progress toward protecting patients from conflicting treatment plans from different doctors or unnecessary prescriptions by scrip mills. Pill freaks can still go from doctor to doctor collecting drug prescriptions at every stop. Now they are even armed with all the brand names of the pills they probably do not need because television is polluted with Big Pharma ads, as documented today by Bloom County.

I recently learned of another aggravating factor in the drug tsunami pouring over our country – drug “protocols.” A client who takes two prescription drugs recently picked up her prescriptions and found a third in the bag, a generic for Prilosec. Surprised, she looked it up on and learned that it is a proton pump inhibitor (PPI). She told me, “I did not know that my proton pump needed inhibition. I always thought my lack of inhibition was part of my charm.”

Reading further, she learned that PPIs are used to treat heartburn and acid reflux. She had never had a problem with her GI tract and eats highly spiced, exotic foods with gustoand no ill effects.

Prilosec was recently found to be associated with an increased risk of dementia. In addition to the dementia risk, there was a respectable catalog of dire side-effects, such as diarrhea, muscle pain or spasms, heart-rate abnormalities, and seizures. Finally, since PPIs suppress production of stomach acid, the body tries to compensate for the increased pH in the gastro-intestinal tract after a period of PPI use by producing more stomach acid. This requires ever-higher doses or a more powerful PPI.

Now both curious and alarmed, she called the office of the doctor who prescribed the PPI to ask why. The nurse checked with the doctor, who told her he prescribed the PPI because it is listed in a drug “protocol” for her condition, which had nothing to do with the GI tract. In response to her expression of concern that she was being prescribed medication for symptoms she did not have, the nurse assured her that “everyone” takes PPIs. The nurse, herself, takes Prilosec, but will be graduating soon to a more powerful medication for acid reflux because Prilosec is losing its effectiveness for her (Remember about the body’s response to prolonged use of PPIs?).

Writing a prescription based on a drug “protocol” is like prescribing for a real patient from a hypothetical medical record. This raises concerns on many fronts.

First, if the patient does not have the condition the drug is intended to treat, the doctor is introducing unnecessary interactions with other drugs. Even if the doctor knows all the prescriptions the patient is using, he or she is not with the patient on a daily basis and will not know about over-the-counter drugs and supplements the patient may be consuming or lifestyle circumstances and diet that may affect how the drug is tolerated. A real patient is likely to differ in important ways from the hypothetical patient on which the protocol is based.

Secondly, prescribing from a protocol will lead to an upward spiral in the number of prescriptions doctors write. A drug protocol created by, or with the connivance of, the pharmaceutical industry will include every possible application for every drug, but will not catalog contraindicated products. As a consequence, the list of suggested pharmaceuticals for a given diagnosis will expand over time, but never contract.

Finally, many patients will take whatever prescriptions a doctor gives them. They may not realize that a prescription is treatment for symptoms or conditions they do not have. An unnecessary drug may become a regular part of the patient’s drug regime and the side effects of that unnecessary drug may require still more prescriptions to treat those side effects. Patients in assisted living facilities and nursing homes are especially prone to take pills they do not need. They are handed their medication and take it without question.

One resident in an assisted-living facility was taking over $500.00 per month in medication and was almost totally unresponsive. When the family had a money problem and couldn’t pay for the prescriptions, they stopped giving them to her. She soon perked up and started asking about her grandchildren. She had been chemically restrained to make her more tractable.

Our consumption of pharmaceutical products is out of hand. Automatic inclusion of additional substances based on a hypothetical model of a patient’s diagnosis would be one more aggravating factor. Physicians need to prescribe treatments based solely on analysis of the specific patient’s symptoms and conditions and patients need to be more inquisitive about the prescriptions they are being given. Further, any patient who is taking more than three prescriptions should have a periodic review by an independent pharmacist or different doctor to analyze the drug interactions going on.

John B. Payne, Attorney
Garrison LawHouse, PC
Dearborn, Michigan 313.563.4900
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 800.220.7200

©2016 John B. Payne, Attorney

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