Sunday 20 October 2019

Polypharmacy: a pill too many?

Polypharmacy: taking too many forms of medication, prescribed or unprescribed – is on the increase. Conor Cullen asked Deputy Liam Twomey, a doctor, about it

PEOPLE are now living longer and many, particularly elderly patients, are on multiple medicines, so the challenge of ensuring they are taking what they need, when they need it, has never been greater. Dr Liam Twomey said that cases of polypharmacy are on the increase in Ireland.

Polypharmacy, the Wexford-based GP and Fine Gael TD explained, is the use of too many forms of medication by a patient, either when more drugs are prescribed than is clinically warranted or patients are supplementing prescribed drugs with over-the-counter medicines.

'There is also a secondary problem when all a patient's prescribed medications are clinically warranted, but there are so many pills to take that managing them on a daily basis becomes problematic, particularly for an elderly patient,' said Dr Twomey.

Mistakes have a direct impact on health and quality of life. 'Compliance is a huge issue and any audits that have been done say it's fairly poor. People are living longer now and we're trying to keep them at home, but we want to try to ensure they are not only taking their meds, but taking them in the right way,' said Dr Twomey.

'Patients with mild and moderate dementia, for example, don't have to go into a nursing home. They can stay in their own homes as long as all the necessary safety checks are carried out. These checks don't just apply to things like gas cookers, we also have to ensure that their medication is managed effectively too,' he said.

'It's quite a significant problem that people are not taking their meds properly and it's why there has been a trend towards combination pills and putting patients on meds that they only need to take once a day. We have to move a bit more in that direction,' he said.

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