Many drugs prescribed for elderly Americans are risky

DURHAM, N.C. -- Many Americans over the age of 65 hold prescriptions for drugs considered potentially risky for elderly patients, according to a new study by Duke University Medical Center researchers. The finding emphasizes a need for greater awareness among physicians about the risks presented by commonly prescribed medications as people age and for additional measures to monitor prescription drug use, the team said.

The Duke researchers found that over the course of a year one in five elderly Americans whose benefits were processed by one of the largest pharmaceutical benefits managers in the U.S. filled a prescription for at least one drug classified as a "drug of concern," according to established criteria known as the Beers list. Of those claims, half were for drugs -- including the anti-depressant amitriptyline (Elavil, Endep, Vanatrip) and anti-anxiety drug diazepam (Valium) -- with potential for severe adverse effects in older people, the researchers reported in the Aug. 9, 2004, issue of Archives of Internal Medicine.

"Although criteria for drugs to avoid in the elderly have been around for a long time, the amount of potentially inappropriate prescribing for older patients remains really high," said Lesley Curtis, Ph.D., a member of the Duke Center for Clinical and Genetic Economics and lead author of the study. The center is part of the Duke Clinical Research Institute. The work was supported by a Centers for Education and Research on Therapeutics cooperative agreement between the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality in Rockville, Md., and the University of Arizona Health Sciences Center in Tucson.

People over the age of 65 make up less than 15 percent of the U.S. population, yet they account for nearly one-third of drug consumption, noted Kevin Schulman, M.D., director of the Duke Center for Clinical and Genetic Economics and senior author of the study. Elderly individuals more often have multiple chronic conditions, increas

Contact: Kendall Morgan
Duke University Medical Center

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