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I am a Pharmacist and I Think These Medications are Prescribed Too Often

Learn about five medications that are prescribed too often, according to experts.
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

Medicine saves lives, but it can also be abused. Drugs are over prescribed at an alarming rate in the U.S. according to a study that was presented at IDWeek 2018. "We found that nearly half the time, clinicians have either a bad reason for prescribing antibiotics, or don't provide a reason at all," Jeffrey A. Linder, MD, MPH, lead author of the study and chief of the Division of General Internal Medicine and Geriatrics at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, Chicago. "When you consider about 80 percent of antibiotics are prescribed on an outpatient basis, that's a concern." But it's not just antibiotics that are being over prescribed. Eat This, Not That! Health spoke with  HaVy Ngo-Hamilton, Pharm.D, BuzzRx Clinical Consultant who shares five drugs that are commonly taken too often and can have harmful effects. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


Over Prescribed Drugs Can Be a Problem Anyone, but Especially for Older Americans


According to the Lown Institute, "Every day, 750 older Americans are hospitalized due to serious side effects from one or more medications. The odds of experiencing a serious adverse reaction to a medication increases 7 to 10 percent with each additional drug—yet today, more than 40 percent of older Americans regularly take 5 or more prescription drugs, and nearly 20 percent take more than 10 medications. When over-the-counter meds are included, a full two-thirds of older adults take 5 or more medications." The organization adds, "If current trends continue, the Lown Institute predicts, over the next decade there will be more than 4.5 million hospitalizations of older adults for serious side effects of medications."


Antimicrobials Including Antibiotics and Antifungals

older woman taking pill or supplement
Shutterstock / fizkes

Dr. Ngo-Hamilton says, "Examples of some commonly used antibiotics are amoxicillin, amoxicillin/clavulanate (Augmentin), cefdinir, ciprofloxacin, trimethoprim/sulfamethoxazole (Bactrim). Some of the common antifungal medications are fluconazole (Diflucan) and terbinafine (Lamisil).

Antibiotics are used to treat different types of bacterial infections such as strep throat, ear infections, urinary tract infections (UTI), and skin infections. Even though antibiotics are not effective against viral infections, they are often prescribed for patients with viral illnesses such as head colds or the flu. Patients also play a role in this problem. A lot of people would ask for a prescription for an antibiotic "just in case." Typically, these patients also tend to save unused antibiotics and self-medicate the next time they are feeling under the weather. I cannot put enough emphasis on the importance of taking an antibiotic exactly as prescribed and only using antibiotics that are prescribed to you by your doctor. Inappropriate use of antibiotics not only does not kill all the bacteria causing the illness, but the bacteria develops a resistance to the medication that allows it to survive and ultimately become harder to treat. This is a serious public health issue. Antimicrobial resistance can affect anybody at any age, though, if you have a weakened immune system or are over the age of 65, this puts you at heightened risk for antimicrobial resistance."


Zolpidem (Ambien)


Dr. Ngo-Hamilton states, "Chronic and acute insomnia are the problems that many of us deal with on a daily basis. Underlying medical conditions can play a part in unhealthy sleeping patterns. In addition to that, life stressors are also the culprits for insomnia. Along with over-the-counter sleep aids, Ambien (zolpidem) is prescribed quite often. If you are not able to fall asleep or get enough sleep at night, you will not be able to function well during the day. It is totally safe to need sleeping medications to get through periods of life stressors or environmental changes, however, without practicing sleep hygiene, you may gradually become dependent on these sleeping pills to be able to fall asleep.

Practicing sleep hygiene is the best way to maintain healthful sleep. Using sleeping pills is acceptable; however, it is best to incorporate a healthy bedtime routine while tapering down on sleep aids; that way, you won't become completely dependent on sleep aids."


Corticosteroids: Prednisone, Prednisolone

Testosterone boosters

Dr. Ngo-Hamilton explains, "Corticosteroids, often known as steroids, are prescribed to help you get over an illness. It is a common practice to prescribe a steroid dose pack along with a course of antibiotics. Taking steroids to overcome the symptoms of certain illnesses is not a bad thing, as long as you follow directions to taper it properly. Often patients do not follow the directions to properly taper off the medication. Knowing the common side effects of steroids is also helpful since this type of medicine can cause some unpleasant side effects such as sleep problems and swelling."


Decongestant Nasal Sprays: Afrin, Sinex

Woman blowing her nose into tissue

"Decongestant nasal sprays are often used when someone has a cold or flu," says Dr. Ngo-Hamilton. "It is often prescribed to relieve the unpleasant state of being congested. Decongestant nasal sprays are very effective; however, they should not be used long-term. It is important to know that overusing decongestant nasal spray can lead to rebound congestion."


Proton Pump Inhibitors: Omeprazole, Pantoprazole

doctor patient consult insomnia

According to Dr. Ngo-Hamilton, "Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) are very effective in treating and preventing GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease), gastric ulcers, and indigestion. PPIs are considered to be fairly safe for most people; however, long-term use of these medications has been found to be associated with an increased risk of bone fracture, community-acquired pneumonia, and the development of clostridium difficile (C.Diff) infections. PPIs are overprescribed due to the lack of a clear indication at the beginning of treatment. In addition to that, the lack of treatment re-evaluation leads to unnecessary chronic use of PPIs which, sometimes, can cause more harm than benefits. If you are taking a prescription PPI such as pantoprazole or omeprazole for severe GERD, re-evaluation of treatment is necessary between 4-8 weeks. You should not discontinue this medicine abruptly, follow your doctor's instructions to taper PPI then gradually replace it with a histamine-2 receptor blocker like ranitidine."  

Heather Newgen
Heather Newgen has two decades of experience reporting and writing about health, fitness, entertainment and travel. Heather currently freelances for several publications. Read more about Heather
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