The People's Perspective on Medicine

Show 1098: Are You Taking Too Many Prescriptions?

There are risks as well as costs of taking too many prescriptions. Is it time to ask your doctor and your pharmacist to check your meds?
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Are You Taking Too Many Prescriptions?

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Consumer Reports recently had a cover story on “Too Many Meds? America’s Love Affair with Prescription Medication.” It turns out that half of American adults take at least one prescription drug. Actually, the average number of prescriptions is four. That’s a lot more pills than people in other countries, and it is more than we Americans used to take. Are we taking too many prescriptions?

How Can You Tell If You Are Taking Too Many Prescriptions?

Very often, prescriptions start to pile up almost before you notice it. If your sleeping medicine gives you heartburn, you may end up with a prescription to treat that symptom. Sometimes the second medication will then cause symptoms for which the doctor prescribes a different drug. This is one way people end up taking three, four or five different pills.

The problem is that using too many prescriptions increases your risk of side effects. And taking all those different pills means that they may interact with one another. There were more than 1 million emergency department visits due to adverse drug effects in 2014. More than 100,000 people died from those reactions. And, of course, paying for all those pills is also hard on the budget.

National Check Your Meds Day:

That is why Consumer Reports declared October 21st National Check Your Meds Day. They recommend a “brown bag” review of everything you are taking. That means you ask your doctor or pharmacist for advice on whether you are taking anything you might not need. Be sure to ask exactly how to discontinue it, if that is the advice. Some drugs should not be stopped abruptly.

Your Calls Are Welcome:

We’ll do our best to answer your questions about too many prescriptions. Tune in Saturday, October 21, 2017, from 7 to 8 AM EDT or call 1-888-472-3366. You can also reach us through email ( or Twitter @peoplespharmacy.

This Week’s Guest:

Lisa Gill is the deputy content editor of Best Buy Drugs for Consumer Reports. The website is:

Listen to the Podcast:

The podcast of this program will be available the Monday after the broadcast date. The show can be streamed online from this site and podcasts can be downloaded for free. CDs may be purchased at any time after broadcast for $9.99.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
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On the broadcast you gave the name of a website to get information about meds. You said there was a cost to get information (which is fine), but I didn’t catch the name of the site. Can you provide a link to the site? I do subscribe to the Consumer Lab site which I got from People’s Pharmacy (it also has a cost). It has been invaluable to make sure I get what I am paying for and is worth the cost.
Thank you.

Regarding costs: insurance companies will no pay for the natural thyroid hormone replacement medications available (ie Nature Thyroid, Armour Thyroid) which do a much better job of regulating levels than the synthetics. Does pharma own the insurance companies? It’s been my experience that the natural forms are less costly than the synthetics.

Very few doctor’s in America will tell their patients to change their diet and lifestyle. Obesity is the cause of many diseases. Doctors have now been retrained to just write a prescription. It turns out that they expect a person to take it for the rest of their life. That doesn’t sound good to me. Actually, sad.

So, simply “telling” the person to lose weight is the solution? I’ve a master’s in human behavior and motivating a humanimal to seek better health requires a bit more ingenuity than that, but fortunately for us all, one person, B.F. Skinner had your same thought, but actually went about contriving a way to test experimentally and then devise a technology to reproducibly improve humanimal behavior. A good use of his free will and gifts of cognition. Seek and you to shall find.. You are correct in your simplification, now on to creating a science to actually do the work. You could be the next scientist to “stand on his shoulders to see further,” ala newton. dR of Light


We fear that most physicians have not been well trained in behavioral medicine. In other words, just saying eat better and exercise more is not enough. It would be like saying flap your wings and fly. People need health coaches who can give them concrete steps to make the changes in diet and lifestyle you advocate. Then they need monitoring and encouragement. Changing behavior is challenging. We wish medical schools would provide the tools that would help health professionals help their patients follow your recommendations.

My sister worked as a nurse at one of the hospitals off the mountain. She interviewed those who were going to have outpatient surgery and said 9 out of 10 people she interviewed – age not a factor – were taking 8 to 10 medications every day.

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