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Show 1136: Do You Really Need That Pill?

Americans are taking more medicines than ever, but that isn't always an advantage. Find out when you should ask if you really need that pill.
Show 1136: Do You Really Need That Pill?
Dr. Jennifer Jacobs
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Do You Really Need That Pill?

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Americans take a lot of medications. We appear to have adopted the advertising-based attitude that there is a pill for every ill. But while some medicines may be helpful or even essential in some circumstances, a lot of people end up taking too many of them. Sometimes doctors end up prescribing one drug to counteract the side effect of another. This prescribing cascade can really add up, especially for older adults who may be more susceptible to side effects. What can be done? Have you asked if you really need that pill?

Changing Guidelines:

A recent change in the guidelines for treating high blood pressure could result in millions more individuals taking at least one medicine (and possibly several) to control hypertension. Before jumping on board this train, doctors and patients alike need to know about the pros and cons of such treatment. What is the evidence supporting it? What are the possible harms? Can a problem such as elevated blood pressure be addressed with lifestyle measures? How can doctors help patients try that approach? Above all, find out if you really need that pill.

Drug Interactions:

Computer programs can warn prescribers and pharmacists about potential interactions. Too often, though, the warnings get overridden due to alert fatigue. Do patients need to research possible interactions among their various drugs themselves? How would they proceed?

Getting Off Your Medication:

One problem that should be addressed when you start taking a new medicine is how to stop it. Some prescription pills (even some OTC drugs) can be very hard to discontinue. How can doctors learn more about helping patients quit taking certain medicines?

Making Sense of Side Effects:

Most of the prescription drug ads you see on TV have a long list of side effects. Try listening with your eyes closed so you hear what could happen instead of watching people have a lovely time. Then ask your doctor and your pharmacist about these possible reactions. If they reassure you that they are rare, as they may be, ask exactly what that means: 3 in 100 or 3 in 10,000? That way you will be better informed to decide whether or not you really need that pill.

This Week’s Guest:

Jennifer Jacobs, MD, MPH, is a family physician specializing in integrative medicine. Dr. Jacobs is a clinical assistant professor in epidemiology at the University of Washington School of Public Health and Community Medicine.

Dr. Jacobs is the author of Do You Really Need That Pill? How to Avoid Side Effects, Interactions, and Other Dangers of Over-medication. 

Her website is http://jenniferjacobsmd.com/

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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