PHARMACY

Study shows pharmacists play key role in health care

BY Michael Johnsen

CHICAGO A new University of Chicago Medical Center report released Wednesday an published in the latest issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association underscores just how important a role a pharmacist can play in overall health care.

At least one in 25 older adults, about 2.2 million people in the United States, take multiple drugs in combinations that can produce a harmful drug-drug interaction, the report found, and half of these interactions involve a non-prescription medication.

Although the number of people taking medications has remained stable for the last decade, the number of drugs taken by older people has significantly increased, researchers said. This may be because of more intense therapy for chronic illness, improved access to medications due to Medicare Part D, and the growth of the generic drug market. More than half of older adults now take five or more medications or supplements.

“Older adults are the largest consumer of prescription drugs,” stated study author Stacy Tessler Lindau, assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology and of medicine at the University of Chicago Medical Center. “We find that they commonly combine these prescription medications with over-the-counter medications and dietary supplements, which can increase their vulnerability to medication side-effects and drug-drug interactions.”

“We were reassured that we did not find combinations of the most commonly used drugs that were absolutely forbidden,” she added, “one indication that drug safety systems used by physicians, nurses and pharmacists are working.”

“However,” she added, “our results probably underestimate total risk.” Patients using less common drugs and non-prescription medications could be more at risk for harmful interactions because health care providers may be less familiar with their safety profile.

The study also found ethnic and gender differences. Older Hispanics were more likely than other ethnic groups to be taking no medications. Older women were less likely than older men to take medicines to reduce cholesterol.

“In our study, men and women were equally likely to report a history of cardiovascular disease,” said Dima Qato, research associate in obstetrics and gynecology at the University. Despite efforts to increase awareness in the medical community that older men and women are equally at risk for a cardiovascular event, “disparities persist in the use of statin medications,” she said. “Far fewer women than men were taking these effective cholesterol-lowering drugs.”

The study used data collected for the National Social Life, Health and Aging Project, a nationally representative multi-purpose survey of adults aged 57 to 85 administered between July 2005 and March 2006. The survey team interviewed 3,005 participants in their homes about the medications they used “on a regular schedule, like every day or every week.”

Ninety-one percent of all respondents regularly used at least one medication, a percentage that increased with age. Twenty-nine percent of older adults took more than five prescription medications.Sixty-eight percent of the adults who took prescription drugs also used over-the-counter medications or dietary supplements. Men were more likely to take over-the-counter medicines. Women were more likely to use supplements, such as vitamins or herbal remedies.

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FDA approves Novadel’s Zolpimist for short-term insomnia treatment

BY Alaric DeArment

FLEMINGTON, N.J. The Food and Drug Administration has approved a drug by NovaDel Pharma for the short-term treatment of insomnia characterized by difficulties with sleep initiation, NovaDel announced Monday.

NovaDel said that Zolpimist (zolpidem tartrate) is its second product approved by the FDA that uses its proprietary NovaMist spray technology. The active ingredient in Zolpimist is the same as the one in Sanofi-Aventis’ Ambien.

“We believe that the FDA’s approval of Zolpimist provides patients with an important treatment option for insomnia, as Zolpimist provides rapid absorption from the oral mucosa,” NovaDel board chairman and interim CEO Steven Ratoff said.

Ambien had worldwide sales of $559.3 million for first six months of 2008, according to Sanofi-Aventis financial data.

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AstraZeneca considering entering biosimilars market

BY Alaric DeArment

LONDON AstraZeneca may soon start developing biosimilars, according to published reports.

David Brennan, the company’s CEO, told the Financial Times that depending on legislation being considered, the Anglo-Swedish drug maker might expand into creating follow-on versions of biologics that have lost patent protection.

Merck and Eli Lilly have also said they might develop biosimilars. Merck announced earlier this month that it would create a new biosimilars division, Merck BioVentures, to make follow-on and novel biologics using engineering technology from GlycoFi, a company it acquired in 2006. The Whitehouse Station, N.J.-based drug maker plans to launch its first biosimilar, the anemia drug MK-2578, in 2012 and have at least five biosimilar candidates at that time.

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