What is Medication Overload?

Michelle Ng, Pharm.D. Candidate 2020

What is Medication Overload?

Medication overload refers to the use of multiple medications for which the potential harm to the patient outweighs the benefits. There is no strict cut off for the number of medications, but higher numbers generally increase the likelihood that someone will experience an adverse drug event (ADE) or harm from a medication. 

You can become “overloaded” with medications when you keep taking medications that no longer have benefit, medications that have a set duration of effectiveness, or medications that are not necessary or have harmful side effects.

Did You Know?

o  Each additional medication added to a patient’s regimen comes with a 7-10% increase in risk for adverse drug events.

o  Medication adherence, the ability to take all medications as prescribed, also decreases as the number of medications increases.

o  Patient’s may have symptoms like nausea, drowsiness, falls, bleeding, headache or difficulty breathing and not realize that they could be caused by their medications.

o  The number of older adults taking 5 or more medications has tripled to almost 43% in the last 20 years. If you include OTC medications and supplements, this number increases to 67%.

How can I tell if I am, or a loved one is, getting overloaded?

Remember, not all medications need to be taken indefinitely.

o  Some medications are taken once; others are taken for weeks or months. Even medications for chronic conditions like diabetes should be stopped when they are no longer useful.

Ask, “What is my goal?”

o  One good way to identify medications that are not needed is to ask yourself, your pharmacist and your prescriber what your goal is with each medication. This will help you identify areas for improvement and start a discussion with your providers as your goals change over time.

Lifestyle changes can have a BIG impact on your health.

o  Many health conditions are strongly impacted by factors like exercise, smoking, alcohol consumption, and diet. Medications are not always the most effective treatment, and they are seldom the “only thing you can do” to live a longer and healthier life.


How Can a Clinical Pharmacist Help with Overload? 

Having a review of your medications can help identify areas that can be improved, medications that may no longer be needed, and help you be an informed member of your health care team! Doing nothing can lead to reduced quality of life, unnecessary hospitalizations and even loss of healthy life years. Consana pharmacists aim to help each of their patients build an individualized health care plan they can use to reach their personal health goals. Our vision of better care means improving outcomes, reducing harm, and lowering costs for everyone and remembering that ‘more medicine isn’t always better medicine’.



1.     Brownlee S. Medication Overload: America's Other Drug Problem. Lown Institute. https://lowninstitute.org/reports/medication-overload-americas-other-drug-problem/. Published April 2019. Accessed February 20, 2020.

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