The prescription drug problem in the province of Quebec, particularly with respect to elderly people, which I first blogged about here and which is highlighted in the video below, is tragically out of hand.
A 2015 study by McGill University researchers found that “nearly 12 per cent of Quebec physicians’ prescriptions were “off-label” and of these, more than 80 per cent have no scientific evidence for non-approved use. A Montreal Gazette article on the study quoted researchers as saying “the most common medications prescribed off-label are those affecting the central nervous system specifically: antidepressants, antipsychotics and anticonvulsants. Patients taking these kind of medications reported various unwanted effects including weight gain, nausea, abdominal pain, grogginess, dizziness, loss of balance and confusion.”
My mother, who lived with dementia of the Alzheimer type, experienced all of the side effects above as a result of being given antipsychotics, which are prescribed inappropriately at an alarmingly high rate to thousands of Quebec seniors who live with Alzheimer disease. Philippe Voyer, researcher, nursing professor and supervisor of the Mentorship Clinique at the Quebec Centre for Excellence in Aging describes the levels at which antipsychotics are prescribed to elderly people who live with Alzheimer disease as “abusive.”
This is not a new issue. One of the lead researchers of the 2015 study above did a similar study in 1990, which concluded that:
“The prevalence of questionable high-risk prescribing [in Quebec], especially of psychotropic drugs, is substantial among elderly people. This may be a potentially important and avoidable risk factor for drug-related illness in elderly people.”
Things seem to have worsened since then. The 1990 and 2015 research findings are echoed in the Government of Quebec’s 2015 report “Prescription Drugs: Optimizing Costs and Use for the Benefit of the Patient and the Sustainability of the System,” which states:
“The increased use of some prescription drugs is questioned, especially in some population groups, including the elderly and children.”
Furthermore, according to a report by the Ontario Drug Policy Research Network, the use of antipsychotics among the elderly in Quebec, which was already the highest in Canada in 2009, increased by 31% over five years. Here’s what that looks like:
This is a costly practice. More important than the financial burden of this type of drug abuse, however, is the human cost, particularly in children and the elderly, and especially for extremely vulnerable elders who live with dementia, and are thus unable to speak for themselves. Far too many are inappropriately prescribed antipsychotic medications when instead they should be more humanely treated with kindness, compassion and understanding.