Prescription Overkill: Are Americans Taking Too Many Pills?

Prescription Overkill: Are Americans Taking Too Many Pills?
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Americans take pills for everything including increased energy, weight loss, pain and medical conditions. Roughly 59-percent of Americans, or 3 in 5, are taking a prescription of some kind. It is also estimated that roughly 15-percent of the population takes more than five prescriptions daily. Categories with the most prescriptions include blood pressure medication, anti-depressants, cholesterol medication and opioid painkillers.


Self-medicating has become a serious issue in the United States. More Americans are mixing pills, increasing dosages and ignoring the dosages listed on prescription bottles. In some cases, mixing multiple pain medications at once is also an issue. When one pill doesn't work for a patient, they may opt to take an additional medication, including over-the-counter options, to achieve a desired effect or be pain-free briefly.

Multiple Prescriptions for One Ailment

In some instances, Americans are taking three or more prescriptions for one ailment. Since a single ailment, like arthritis for example, can cause multiple symptoms, a medication may be prescribed to treat each symptom individually.

An example of the types of prescriptions an arthritis sufferer may take includes:

•Anti-inflammatory medication
•Prescription for joint health
•Opioid pain medication
•Supplements to improve bone density
•Muscle relaxers

Depending on the type of chronic illness a person is diagnosed with, their quality of life can be significantly hindered just from the side effects of taking multiple prescriptions.

Over-Use of Opioid Pain Medication

Opioid prescription writing has increased, which has also caused an increase in prescription painkiller overdose and addiction. Dependency upon opioid painkillers has led to the use of heroin, as a substitute, when doctors stop writing prescriptions for patients or as patients increase their own dosages. Until the 1890s, opioid pain medications were prescribed only for short-term use. The drugs were not intended for long-term use.


Over-prescribing of prescription pills is an issue in the United States. Drug companies have spent more time marketing drugs to physicians in the last decade. Americans with multiple medical conditions can take up to 20 prescriptions per day. For some, the effects of the medication taken are worse than the symptoms of the medical condition.

A good choice, when patients feel over-medicated, is to speak with a treating physician about the multiple medications to see if alternatives are available. Any time that the number of prescriptions someone takes can be reduced by switching medications to options that treat more symptoms at once is ideal. For issues such as high blood pressure, patients take an average of 3 prescriptions daily. These include an ACE inhibitor, a diuretic and a beta blocker, in most cases.

Increased Dependency

Once the body is used to having medication in it to treat an ailment, it becomes dependent on the drug to remedy symptoms and rectify the illness. When dosages are skipped or missed, it throws off the overall harmony of the major organ groups in the body, including brain function. When the body is dependent on highly addictive drugs like muscle relaxers, anti-depressants, anxiety medication and painkillers, it can cause withdrawal to begin.

Withdrawal symptoms can cause a person to become irritable, confused and manic. If dependency on any prescription medication is noticed, it should be discussed with your treating physician immediately. Teens are at a high-risk of opioid medication dependency, along with anti-depressants, stimulants and anxiety medication. Some consider anxiety medication to be a "party drug" to improve social acceptance and the ability to mingle.

Dangerous Side Effects

Some drugs carry side effects that are more dangerous than the diagnosed illness' symptoms. When taking multiple medications, there is an increased risk associated with experiencing adverse drug interaction reactions and general side effects. Reactions vary, with some leading to death due to major medical events such as massive heart attacks, aneurisms and strokes. Any time that side-effects are experienced and hinder your ability to comprehend, walk, see or function in general, a change must be made.

It is important to discuss how you feel after taking medications with your physician in case a medication change needs to be made. If a serious side effect is experienced, usage of the drug should be ceased immediately and your physician should be contacted.

Final Word

Over time, taking medications for a prolonged period of time can cause the body to build up a tolerance to a drug. The drug will stop producing a significant relief of symptoms, which often leads to increased dosages and drug changes. It can also mean that additional medications may be prescribed. It is especially important for the elderly to be careful with the medications that they take as safe dosages for younger generations can prove to be dangerous or fatal in aging persons.

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