Peek into the medicine cabinet of the average senior citizen and you are likely to find several prescriptions and over-the-counter medications. As aches, pains, illnesses and their treatments expand with age, so does the risk of harmful – possibly fatal – drug interactions.

A recent survey conducted by the University of Chicago revealed that four out of five adults between the ages of 57 and 85 took at least one prescription medication. A startling 29 percent of the sample population was on five or more medications, and one in 25 study participants was in danger of mixing the wrong medications.

Adverse effects from drugs send seniors to the emergency room approximately 175,000 times per year, according to another study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine. A third of those visits involve the use of insulin, warfarin (a blood thinner) and digoxin (a heart rate regulator), which are three commonly used drugs.

Seniors find themselves in these situations for a variety of reasons. Having multiple doctors and filling prescriptions at different pharmacies greatly increase the risk. Also, some seniors are not able to be in charge of their own health care, so they must rely on family members or caregivers to pick up and administer their drugs.

“As people age and ailments increase, they inevitably need to see multiple caregivers. Seniors and their families have to be vigilant,” says Armand E. Sabitoni, LIUNA General Secretary-Treasurer and the LHSFNA Labor Co-Chairman.

A good prescription benefit manager (PBM) can help regulate a patient’s medications. For example, the LHSFNA partners with Express Scripts to manage its pharmacy benefits program, LaboreRx. Express Scripts has concurrent and full retro drug utilization review (DUR) programs. The full retro DUR program looks into a member’s history to see if his or her pattern of taking prescriptions raises red-flags such as taking too little, taking too much or refilling too often or too infrequently. The concurrent DUR program alerts the pharmacists and doctors at the point of service when duplicate therapies or drug combinations that may result in adverse interactions are prescribed.

“Pharmacy benefit managers, such as LaboreRx, are proactive in assisting members to become intelligent health care consumers,” Sabitoni adds.  “Yet, while many PBMs have safeguards in place, it is still up to consumers and their caregivers to manage their own health care. Having an open dialogue with your physician and your pharmacist can help prevent a bad combination. When seeing a new or specialized doctor, be certain to bring a list of all current medications, both prescribed and over-the-counter.”

For more information, contact the Health Promotion Division of the LHSFNA at (202) 628-5465.

[Jennifer E. Jones]