I’m a Pharmacist, and This Is the Medication I Think Is Overprescribed

As a nation, we’re overprescribed. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, roughly…

As a nation, we’re overprescribed. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, roughly half of Americans have taken at least one prescription drug in the last 30 days at any given time. More shockingly, a quarter of Americans have taken three or more drugs in that time period, and 12 percent have taken five or more. All together, Americans fill over 860 million prescriptions per year.

While many of these prescriptions are essential for treating acute or chronic illnesses, unnecessary prescriptions can put you at high risk of unforeseen drug interactions. That’s why we asked Tessa Spencer, PharmD, a specialist in community pharmacy and functional medicine, which medication is the most blatantly overprescribed. Read on to learn her answer, which may surprise you.

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Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) are used to treat ulcers, gastroesophageal reflux (GERD), erosion of the esophageal lining, and specific GI disorders. They work by suppressing acidity in the stomach lining, allowing your stomach and esophageal tissue time to heal. While some PPIs are available as over-the-counter drugs, others are available by prescription only. According to Drugwatch, this class of drug is among the most commonly used in the world: roughly 15 million Americans use PPIs every year.

Spencer contends that PPIs such as Prilosec are among the most overprescribed medications on the market. Many patients who take PPIs do not have a documented gastrointestinal diagnosis which justifies their use of this medication, she says.

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PPIs are generally considered safe when taken as directed for the recommended length of time. However, Spencer warns that PPIs can come with a range of serious side effects for some patients. She pointed us toward a 2019 study published in the Journal of Clinical Medicine Research, which suggests that PPIs increase the risk of bone fractures, gastric polyps, low magnesium levels in the blood, Clostridium difficile infections, and anemia when used long-term.

Drugwatch adds that those who take PPIs are at heightened risk of kidney problems and heart attacks. “Thousands of people have filed PPI lawsuits. They claim PPIs caused kidney failure and other injuries,” the site states.

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Studies show patients regularly stretch the limits of what is considered safe when it comes to duration of PPI use. “PPIs are approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for 10 days for the treatment of Helicobacter pylori, up to two weeks for ‘heartburn,’ up to eight weeks for GERD and for two to six months for ulcers. Nonetheless, in a community survey, 60 percent remained on PPIs for over a year and 31 percent remained on them for three or more years,” says the 2019 study.

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Spencer notes that many people continue their use of PPIs longer than they should because they experience rebound hyperacidity in the weeks after stopping. In fact, roughly half of patients experience symptomatic withdrawal, making it necessary to taper off the medication over the course of weeks.

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Speak with your doctor if you need help tapering off your PPI use, or if you believe you are experiencing side effects.

Best Life offers the most up-to-date information from top experts, new research, and health agencies, but our content is not meant to be a substitute for professional guidance. When it comes to the medication you’re taking or any other health questions you have, always consult your healthcare provider directly.