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Beacon Senior News

Rebound regrets: The painful costs of medicine misuse

Jan 25, 2022 09:56AM ● By Jerry Gramckow

If you’re playing basketball, rebounds are great—you want as many of them as you and your teammates can grab. A medicinal rebound, however, has serious, undesirable consequences. This kind of rebound results from the prolonged use of certain medicines that eventually exacerbate the problem they’re created and sold to treat. 

Misplaced trust

In his early 40s, Greg noticed an annoying tingling sensation in his legs, often at night. The spasms kept him awake, rarely sleeping for more than a few hours, which affected his concentration the following day. After years of ignoring the problem, Greg went to his doctor and was diagnosed with Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS).

His doctor prescribed him ropinirole (brand name: Requip), which for Greg was a godsend. Taken regularly, it eliminated the leg spasms, allowing him to sleep again. 

However, gradually, the medicine’s effects diminished. The doctor increased the dosage until, eventually, the spasms returned worse than ever.

Greg’s doctor switched him to a new anti-seizure drug to help him transition off the ropinirole. Neither Greg, now in his mid-60s, nor his doctor know what the long-term effects of this new anti-seizure drug will look like. Yet a stopgap was necessary, as there is no cure for RLS.    

If, like Greg, you’ve taken a potent medication for months or years, you might be just one rim bounce from a rebound you don’t want. Medicinal rebounds can make life miserable, particularly if you’re over 60.

Boomers are playing with fire when they casually pop a few pills to assuage an annoying ache or to aid a beneficial afternoon nap. According to Dr. Stephen D. Silberstein, professor of neurology and director of the Jefferson Headache Center at Thomas Jefferson University, on any given day as many as 3 million Americans suffer headaches brought on by the medications they trusted to rid them of their pain.

Beware the wonder drugs

Older adults are America’s largest group of drug users, according to Kaiser Family Foundation. Almost 90 percent of adults 65 and older reported currently taking prescription medicine, and 54 percent reported taking four or more prescription drugs. A 2016 article in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) reported that every day, 750 U.S. adults age 65 and older are hospitalized due to serious side effects from one or more medications.

The problem rarely occurs with the first dose, or even in the first weeks. But over the course of weeks, months or years (depending on the medicine and dosage) the terrific treatment that revitalized your life transforms into the terrible torment that vexes your body and soul. 

Overuse of short-term, mostly nonprescription “wonder drugs” may cause harm in the long term. Frequent use of nasal decongestants meant to open swollen nasal passages can inevitably lead to severe, chronic nasal congestion (rhinitis medicamentosa or “rebound congestion”). Additionally, prolonged use of certain acid reflux treatments can exacerbate the problems those medicines initially alleviated.

Prescription meds have the potential to be even more hazardous. 

The best-known example of prescription abuse in America is the opioid epidemic. In 2019, an estimated 10.1 million people aged 12 or older misused opioids, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Specifically, 9.7 million people misused prescription pain relievers, and emergency department visits for opioid overdoses rose 30 percent in all parts of the U.S. from July 2016 through September 2017.

Because of widespread misuse, doctors face a delicate balancing act regarding opioid prescriptions. In many situations, opioids provide a level of relief that no other class of drugs can match. However, due to their much-publicized, highly addictive properties, many doctors are reluctant to prescribe them. One JAMA article stated that more than 4 in 10 doctors’ offices refused to take on new patients who need opioids to control pain.

Many health maladies have no cure. Medical experts are still trying, often through trial and error, to find the best treatments. Sometimes the errors resulting from trials can be miserable or even debilitating for patients.

If you find yourself in a situation similar to Greg’s, do your research and seek a second expert opinion. The new doctor might feel like he’s getting you on the rebound, but he’ll get over it—and you’ll score some crucial peace of mind.