Today’s columnist, Dr Mary Wren: A mountain of medication

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There has been a recent article on the BBC website about “the rising tide” of prescription drugs in Scotland.

The article explains how there has been a big increase in adults having five or more medications at once, with 20 per cent of adults having five or more prescription medications and five per cent having 10 or more drugs.

Whenever a new drug is added there will be concerns about how it will mix with the other medicines and sometimes it is only at a later date we find out the risks of mixing certain drugs. I wonder if all that prescribing is necessary?

I decided to have a look at prescribing in the USA. Interestingly, out of the top five drugs prescribed by cost, two are antidepressants and one is for indigestion. Another is for reducing cholesterol. These three drugs cost around $15 billion a year. That is massive.

What else could you do with $15 billion that might be more beneficial for those people?

It’s not that I am against prescribing medication. There are times when medication is life-saving or when it markedly improves the quality of life for people, and if a drug is required we should prescribe it.

However, are we really doing the best for people by spending so much resource on medication?

Or is it that we have been conned into thinking that medicine is the first thing required.

What about putting resources into talking therapies, lifestyle support, gym memberships, weight loss support or community projects that give people a sense of value and purpose?

I know of many projects in Sheffield doing amazing work to help young people with mental health problems, work with the elderly, asylum seekers support, therapy for women who have been abused.

Most of them find it really hard to get funding and don’t know from year to year whether they will be able to carry on their work.

The problem is that there are pots of money for different things with no overlap. So moving money form a prescribing budget to the women’s therapy service isn’t a possibility.

So what can we do? We can choose to be sure that medication is helpful or necessary.

We can look at ways to change our lifestyle.

We can support organisations that help people in other ways – either by giving time, money or support and we can write to our MPs with constructive ideas.

Change is possible.

* Dr Mary Wren, Sheffield GP