The number of US retirees taking three or more psychotropic drugs has doubled between 2004 and 2013, according to a new paper published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
The study, lead by researchers from the University of Michigan and Columbia University, found that doctors were approximately 150% more likely to prescribe psychiatric, sleep, or pain medications to patients over the age of 65.
The researchers reviewed annual government surveys of office-based doctors, and focused on the prescription of at three three of a list of psychiatric, sleep and pain medications like Valium, Prozac, OxyContin and Ambien.
“Between 2004 and 2013, annual polypharmacy visits by adults 65 years or older increased from 1.50 million...to 3.68 million”, the researchers state.
“The biggest jump was in rural areas,” Dr. Mark Olfson, one of the principal authors of the paper, told the New York Times. “[This] suggests to me that the increases partly reflect doctors and patients falling back on medications when they have little access to other options”, he said.
Experts expressed concern at the findings, saying that polypharmacy -- the prescribing of three or more psychiatric drugs -- can bring dangerous side-effects.
“I was stunned to see … that despite all the talk about how polypharmacy is bad for older people, this rate has doubled,” Dr. Dilip Jeste, a professor of psychiatry and neurosciences at the University of California, San Diego, told the New York Times.
The researchers found that nearly half -- almost 46 percent -- of people with at least three prescriptions had no diagnosis of mood, chronic pain or sleep problems.
The finding mirror the results of another study, published in January, which found that more than half of older patients who had been prescribed an antidepressant for depression by their primary care physician did not meet the criteria for Major Depressive Disorder.
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