More meds, more problems: Pharmacy program aims to trim patient prescriptions

A new program working with Memorial University is taking direct aim at what no longer Is necessary in the province's medicine cabinets.
Debbie Kelly says many Canadian seniors take numerous medications, and not all of them are still necessary. (Memorial University)

A new program working with Memorial University's School of Pharmacy is taking direct aim at the province's medicine cabinets, particularly those groaning with prescriptions that are outdated and maybe even risky. 

Debbie Kelly, associate professor at the School of Pharmacy and director of the Medication Therapy Services Clinic, says many patients as they age wind up taking more drugs than they actually need. 

"Patients can come in and go through their medications, and we can work with them to make sure that they meet their health goals and deal with all kinds of problems," she said, adding that research has shown two out of three Canadians over 65 take at at least five different medications. 

Pharmacists are concerned that some patients are taking prescriptions that no longer offer therapeutic benefits, or which could even be hurting patients. (Spencer Platt/Getty)

A quarter of Canadian seniors take at least 10 different prescribed medications. 

The clinic emphasizes what's called deprescribing — "the planned, safe and effective discontinuation of certain medications that may no longer be necessary or may be unsafe in some situations," said Kelly.

She told CBC Radio's St. John's Morning Show Tuesday that the program can be accessed through a referral from a family doctor. 

The team is also doing research with St. Patrick's Nursing Home in St. John's to better understand how the frail elderly can be affected by taking medications that no longer offer therapeutic value, or which could be risky in the wrong combinations. 

Kelly said there are national implications to the research project. 

"It could lead to new programming that could be rolled out in other long-term care facilities – not just in our province, but potentially even beyond," she said. 

"So it's pretty exciting stuff." 

Kelly said, though, that patients should not take it upon themselves to discontinue medications. 

"I certainly wouldn't want anyone to sort of hear about this and take away from that that they should start going through their medicine cabinet and throwing out medications and taking themselves off," Kelly said. 

"It really needs to be done with the advice and oversight of a health professional."