Are older adults vulnerable to harm from prescription drugs?

Older adults can be at greater risk of harm from prescription medications. Adverse side effects can have serious consequences for seniors in particular.

Prescription drugs are used to treat a wide range of issues for New Yorkers, such as blood clots, inflammation, physical pain, blood pressure, diabetes and heart disease. However, for older adults, these pharmaceutical products can also pose harm.

Prescription drug risks associated with seniors

As people age, their bodies sometimes will change. For example, they might become allergic to cats or their skin might become much more sensitive. The same is true when it comes to prescription drugs. AARP points out that older people should be careful when using medications due to the following issues:

  • Low blood sugar
  • Low blood pressure
  • Confusion
  • excessive bleeding
  • increased risk of blood clots

Some prescription drugs can cause life-threatening conditions, coma and even death. However, manufacturers market these drugs to people of all ages, rather than issuing caution for use by older adults.

Manufacturers often fail to warn of dangers

When people watch a commercial for a pharmaceutical drug, the commercial warns them of potential side effects. This is because manufacturers are required by law to disclose any and all risks that the product may pose to others. However, this does not always happen, as demonstrated by a recent report from The New York Times. Lawsuits were filed against Merck after one of its drugs, Vioxx, was connected to heart attack risks. The drug was removed from the market and the company had to pay litigants a settlement of $4.85 billion.

More recently, a medication used for diabetes, Actos, was the subject of litigation after 9,000 people claimed the drug caused bladder cancer. While Takeda Pharmaceutical, the manufacturer of Actos, did not admit a connection, it is believed that the risk of bladder cancer increased by 40 percent if the drug was taken for two years or longer. Takeda, along with the original manufacturer, Eli Lilly, were found by a jury to have known about the risk the drug posed, and that they failed to inform consumers. A $9 billion-dollar punitive damage award was originally ordered by the jury.

Manufacturers pushing drugs for off-label use

Harm can come to older patients when manufacturers encourage off-label use. AARP states that makers of antipsychotic drugs offered kickbacks to nursing homes that prescribed their drugs to residents. Antipsychotic drugs are used to treat mental health issues such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. However, it is estimated that in the 15,000 nursing homes across the country, antipsychotics are used on one in five patients as a way to keep difficult residents, suffering with dementia or Alzheimer's, under control. In a recent settlement, a $2.2 million dollar fine was levied against Johnson & Johnson for targeting nursing homes as recipients of its antipsychotic drugs.

Another case was settled privately concerning a woman who died after she was prescribed an antipsychotic drug upon entering a nursing home for therapy. The woman's daughter filed a lawsuit against the facility, stating that she was never told about the additional prescription.

Consumers in New York City have a right to expect that the products they use are safe. When a product causes harm, they may find it helpful to discuss their situation with an experienced attorney.