Elderly people in the U.S. are being inappropriately prescribed medications

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An article in the current issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine reports that elderly people in the U.S. are being inappropriately prescribed medications.

In the U.S. only 15 percent of the population is aged 65 years or older, but this group account for 33 percent of prescription drug users. Elderly persons are also more likely to take several drugs concurrently, the article states.

Lesley H. Curtis, Ph.D., of Duke University Medical Center, Durham, N.C., and colleagues investigated the extent of potentially inappropriate medication prescribing for elderly patients not in the hospital. Inappropriate medications were identified according to criteria set by physicians and pharmacologists, as defined by a list known as the Beers revised list of drugs - a list of drugs to be avoided in the elderly.

The researchers studied the outpatient claims database of a large national pharmaceutical benefit company. The database included 765,423 patients aged 65 or older who filled one or more prescription drug claims during 1999.

The researchers found that 162,370 patients (21 percent) filled a prescription for one or more drugs of concern (medications that should be avoided in elderly patients or which are inappropriate for use in elderly patients). Amitriptyline and doxepin (drugs used for treatment of depression) accounted for 23 percent of claims for Beers list drugs, and 51 percent of those claims were for drugs with potentially harmful effects. More than 15 percent of patients filled prescriptions for two drugs of concern, and 4 percent filled prescriptions for three or more drugs of concern within the same year.

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