Overcoming the serious side effects of modern medicine

19 November, 2014

While modern medications have revolutionised the way we treat and cure illnesses and diseases, an expert says our increased reliance on the use of medicines in the past 30 years has had a number of negative implications for society.

According to Prof Libby Roughead from the University of South Australia, 10 per cent of Australians are suffering from an adverse medication reaction at any given time.

"We live in a society where multiple chronic illnesses are common – 40 per cent of Australians report three or more chronic conditions," she says.

"An increasing number of people are being treated with more medicines and they are using those medicines for longer.

"In addition, most people with multiple health conditions see multiple health providers, many of whom can now prescribe medicines.

"This means there is lots of potential for things to go wrong, as different medications react with each other. It's not all bad news though – we estimate half the harm that is attributed to medicines can actually be avoided." 

The disease-focused health care system

Prof Roughead believes the current health care system needs to adapt to accommodate the increase in multiple medicine use in society.

"We need to move from systems that are disease-focused and the appropriate use of treatments for that disease, to a system that focuses on the appropriate use of medicines for the person given all their conditions and the outcomes the person wants to achieve," she says.

"New research needs to be undertaken which examines the effects of multiple medicines on health, and we need to improve the monitoring of medicines after they are in use, not just when they are first marketed.

"Medication safety is everyone's business. Patients can also help by being alert to new symptoms after starting or stopping a medicine, reporting them to their health provider and asking if it could be an adverse event."