Addressing the Polypharmacy challenge in Older people with Multimorbitidies research project is being carried out by Deborah Swinglehurst, Nina Fudge, Celia Roberts, Alison Thomson and Sarah Collins between March 2016 and February 2021, funded by the National Institute for Health Research. Our project acronym APOLLO-MM draws inspiration from the Greek deity Apollo, who has been associated with medicine and healing. Drawing parallels with polypharmacy today, Apollo was seen as a god who could prevent disease as well as cause it.
It is common for people living with multiple, long-term conditions (such as diabetes, high blood pressure, asthma) to be prescribed numerous medicines. This is known as polypharmacy – the co-prescription of four or more medications. In the past decade in England, the average number of items prescribed for each person per year in England has increased by 54% : in 2001 people were prescribed on average 12 different items per year, but this rose to 18 in 2011. A large Scottish study found similar increases in prescribing: in 1995 12% of patients were dispensed 5 or more drugs, but this increased to 22% in 2010.
Whilst the benefits of preventing and treating ill health are hard to question, being prescribed numerous medicines can be a burden for patients and their families and can sometimes be harmful. Polypharmacy can expose patients to risks such as falls and hospital admissions related to side-effects or drug-drug interactions. A recent international meta-analysis (a study which combines the results from a number of studies) found that about one in ten hospital admissions of older patients are due to patients having an adverse reaction to their medicines. Prescribing errors are also more common in the context of polypharmacy.