Prescription Drugs and the Elderly:

Many Still Receive Potentially Harmful Drugs Despite Recent Improvements

HEHS-95-152: Published: Jul 24, 1995. Publicly Released: Aug 8, 1995.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO examined the elderly's inappropriate use of prescription drugs, focusing on: (1) whether the inappropriate use of prescription drugs by the elderly is widely viewed as a serious health problem; (2) the ways prescription drugs are used inappropriately and why these situations occur; (3) how public knowledge of prescription drugs can be improved; and (4) how emerging trends in health care delivery affect drug prescribing for the elderly.

GAO found that: (1) the inappropriate prescription drug use is a serious health risk for the elderly, since they take more prescription drugs than other age groups, they often take several drugs at once, resulting in adverse drug reactions, and they do not efficiently eliminate drugs from their systems due to decreased body function; (2) the percentage of Medicare recipients over 65 using unsuitable prescription drugs dropped from 25 percent in 1987 to 17.5 percent in 1992; (3) inappropriate prescription drug use results from physicians using outdated prescribing practices, pharmacists not performing drug utilization reviews, and patients not informing their physician and pharmacist of all the drugs they are taking; (4) to address the problem of inappropriate prescription drug use, the government is working to disseminate information on the effect of prescription drugs on the elderly, the medical community is working to increase physicians' knowledge of geriatrics, and patients are increasingly seeking information about their drug therapies; and (5) enrollment in managed care plans has grown rapidly, particularly among senior citizens, allowing for the potential to improve the coordination of drug therapies for newly enrolled elderly patients.

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