Older women more likely to be overprescribed inappropriate drugs: Study

Marriage and income lowered the risk for men, but not women, suggesting the difference in prescription likelihood is entirely tied to sex.
By Stephen Feller   |   May 5, 2016 at 10:07 AM

VANCOUVER, British Columbia, May 5 (UPI) -- Older women are nearly 25 percent more likely than men to be over-prescribed or inappropriately prescribed drugs, with a new study pointing to social dynamics as the explanation for the discrepancy.

Researchers at the University of British Columbia found that women were more likely to be treated with pharmaceutical drugs, right or wrong, and that few lifestyle or environmental factors lowered the risk for women to be over-treated or improperly treated.

The risk for women to be exposed to drugs they don't need is significantly related to societal and social factors, the researchers say, because of the differences in the way women both seek and give care.

In addition to addressing the ways gender, as well as age, wealth and ethnicity, affect medical care, the researchers recommend tools to assist with de-prescribing some patients and finding methods to cancel out the bias leading to inappropriate prescriptions.

"Being a woman is double jeopardy when it comes to taking medications," Dr. Cara Tannenbaum, scientific director of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research's Institute of Gender and Health, said in a press release. "Women metabolize drugs differently than men. Gender roles and social circumstances also place them at risk. However, I expect that by empowering women with knowledge about the harms of sleeping pills and other medications, we can help drive decisions to try switching to safer therapies."

For the study, published in the journal Age and Aging, researchers measured the prevalence of prescriptions given to 660,679 residents of British Columbia over age 65 during 2013.

Overall, 28 percent of study participants filled one or more "potentially inappropriate" prescriptions in 2013, with 31 percent of women and 26 percent of men filling one during the year. Women were found to be between 16 and 23 percent more likely to receive an inappropriate prescription, even after considering for income, ethnicity and marriage.

Among men, but not women, being married or making more money lowered the risk for receiving an inappropriate prescription. For women, being Chinese or South Asian lowered the risk, but not for men, the researchers said.

The difference in likelihood for men and women to receive a drug they don't need requires doctors be made aware of the existing bias, while tools to assist with de-prescribing of inappropriate drugs and methods of avoiding the prescriptions are necessary to protect older patients health, the researchers said.

"The effect of a patient's sex on the risk of inappropriate prescribing is of tremendous clinical and social concern," said Steve Morgan, a professor at the University of British Columbia.

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