Older Canadians represent the fastest-growing segment of our population and are the largest users of prescription drugs. Seniors take more drugs than younger Canadians because, on average, they have a higher number of chronic conditions. According to the Canadian Institute for Health Information, in 2012, nearly two-thirds of seniors had claims for 5 or more drug classes, and more than one-quarter of seniors had claims for 10 or more drug classes. The number of drugs used by seniors increased with age.
The use of multiple medications, or polypharmacy, is of concern in the senior population. The risk of drug interactions and adverse drug reactions is several-fold higher for seniors than for younger people. This phenomenon is associated with pharmacokinetic and pharmacodynamics factors in seniors, including changes in renal and hepatic function, increased sensitivity to drugs and, potentially, multiple medical problems. In older persons, adverse drug reactions are often complex and may be the direct cause of hospital admissions for acute care. Cognitive and affective disorders, for example, may be due to adverse reactions to sedatives or hypnotic drugs. Chronic pain is a common issue, and it is important to carry out research into and education for health care providers concerning the unique challenges of managing pain in older adults.
The CMA supports the development of a coordinated national approach to reduce polypharmacy and prevent adverse drug reactions. Prescribers must be vigilant to optimize pharmacotherapy and in reconciling medications, taking into consideration physiological changes as a person ages. Deprescribing should be considered, reducing or stopping medications that may be harmful or no longer be of benefit, seeking to improve quality of life.
There has been considerable interest in determining which factors affect prescribing behavior and how best to influence these factors. Strategies that improve prescribing practices include evidence-based drug information provided through academic detailing; objective continuing medical education; accessible, user-friendly decision support tools available at point of care; and electronic prescribing systems that allow physicians access to their patient's treatment and medication profiles.
The following principles define the basic steps to appropriate prescribing for seniors.
Know the patient.
Know the diagnosis.
Know the drug history. Keep a medication list for each patient and review, update, reconcile and evaluate adherence at each visit. Instruct the patient to bring all prescription and over-the-counter medications, including medications prescribed by other physicians, and natural health products, to each appointment. In some provinces, pharmacists conduct medication use reviews for patients on public drug benefit programs.
Know the history of use of other substances such as alcohol, tobacco, cannabis, opioids and caffeine.
Consider non-pharmacologic therapy, including diet, exercise, psychotherapy or community resources. Continuing medical education in specific non-pharmacologic therapies is valuable. For example, evaluation and management of behavioural and psychological symptoms of dementia should be considered before anti-psychotic therapy. As well, Canadian standardized non-pharmacologic order sets should be developed for the treatment of delirium.
Know the drugs. Critically evaluate all sources of drug information and use multiple sources such as clinical practice guidelines, medical journals and databases, continuing medical education and regional drug information centres. Monitor patients continually for adverse drug reactions. Appropriate drug dosage depends on factors such as age, sex, body size, general health, concurrent illnesses and medications, and hepatic, renal and cognitive function (for example, older people are particularly sensitive to drugs that affect the central nervous system).
Keep drug regimens simple. Avoid mixed-frequency schedules when possible. Try to keep the number of drugs used for long-term therapy under five to minimize the chance of drug interactions and improve adherence.
Establish treatment goals. Determine how the achievement of goals will be assessed. Regularly re-evaluate goals, adequacy of response and justification for continuing therapy. Time to benefit of prescribed medications should be a key consideration when providing care to seniors at end of life.
Encourage patients to be responsible medication users. Verify that the patient and, if necessary, the caregiver, understands the methods and need for medication. Recommend the use of daily or weekly medication containers, calendars, diaries or other reminders, as appropriate, and monitor regularly for compliance. Encourage the use of one dispensary.
The Institute for Safe Medication Practices Canada has developed a program, Knowledge is the best medicine (https://www.knowledgeisthebestmedicine.org), that can be helpful to seniors and their healthcare team manage medicines safely and appropriately.
Approved by the Board on May 28, 2011
Update approved by the Board on March 02, 2019
Health and safety in the workplace continue to be areas of concern to the CMA. The CMA recommends that educational programs on the risks of drug-related impairment to health and safety in the workplace be directed toward labour, management and the public in general. Occupations for which impairment resulting from drug use may constitute a serious hazard should be identified and designated as such. The association recommends that supervisors be trained to refer a worker in a safety-sensitive job for a health assessment if the supervisor has reasonable grounds to suspect impairment of the worker. Workers holding safety-sensitive jobs should be educated to report any departure from their usual state of health as well as any drugs (prescribed or otherwise) being taken to the occupational health physician or, in the absence of such, to the physician of the worker's choice. The CMA is opposed to routine pre-employment drug testing. It recommends that random drug testing among employees be restricted to safety-sensitive positions and undertaken only when measures of performance and effective peer or supervisory observation are unavailable. Drug testing should always be conducted in such a way as to protect confidentiality and should be undertaken with the subject's informed consent (except when otherwise required by law).
The idea of drug testing among workers has developed from society's concern over the relation between drug use and impairment, with resultant risks to the worker, fellow workers and the public.
Education: Since prevention is the principal and ultimate objective the association recommends that educational programs on the risks of impairment to health and safety in the workplace be directed toward labour, management and the public in general.
Illicit drugs are not the only ones that may cause impairment. Certain prescription drugs and even some over-the-counter medications may affect a person's ability to carry out professional functions safely; such effects may vary considerably from one person to another.
Alcohol is by far the most common impairing drug implicated in accidents; in addition, the scientific literature contains a growing body of information on impairment and dangers resulting from the use and misuse of various therapeutic medications. Far less is documented or known about the role of illicit drugs in work-related accidents.
Safety-sensitive occupations: In most workplaces there are occupations for which impairment may constitute a serious hazard. Such occupations should be identified and designated as such. Workers who hold such safety-sensitive jobs must accept the fact that other workers and the public need to be protected from the hazards of impairment, whether from physical or psychologic ill health or from the use of drugs (over-the-counter, prescription or illicit).
Performance assessment of safety-sensitive occupations: The CMA recommends that supervisors be trained to refer a worker in a safety-sensitive job for a health assessment if the supervisor has reasonable grounds (e.g., unsatisfactory performance or observed unusual behaviour) to suspect impairment of the worker. The examining physician may recommend that some tests (including tests for the presence of certain drugs) be carried out under pre-agreed protocols. Workers holding safety-sensitive jobs must be educated to report any departure from their usual state of health as well as any drugs (prescribed or otherwise) they may be taking to the occupational health physician or, in the absence of such, to the physician of the worker's choice.
Testing: Any discussion of drug testing must take the following into account:
If a quantitative test is to be used to determine impairment a limit must be established beyond which a person is deemed to be impaired. However, since the threshold of impairment varies from one person to another this variation should be taken into account when a worker is being assessed.
The tests must be valid and reliable. They must be performed only in laboratories accredited for drug testing.
The tests must provide results rapidly enough to be useful in deciding whether the person should continue to work.
If different testing procedures are available and the differences between the validity and reliability are not significant the least intrusive alternative should be chosen.
The test should be conducted in such a way as to ensure confidentiality and should be undertaken with the subject's informed consent (except when otherwise required by law).
Pre-employment testing: The CMA opposes routine pre-employment drug testing for the following reasons:
Routine pre-employment drug screening may not objectively identify those people who constitute a risk to society.
The mass, low-cost screening tests may not be reliable or valid.
The circumstances may not justify possible human rights violations.
Random testing: The CMA believes that random drug testing among employees has a limited role, if any, in the workplace. Such testing should be restricted to employees in safety-sensitive positions and undertaken only when measures of performance and effective peer or supervisory observation are unavailable.
Role of occupational health services: Occupational health physicians must not be involved in a policing or disciplinary role with respect to employee testing.
CMA recommends that employers provide a safe environment for all workers. With the help of experts such as those from national and provincial agencies dedicated to dealing with substance abuse occupational health departments should develop lists of drugs known to cause short-term or long-term impairment, including alcohol. These lists should be posted prominently in the workplace, and workers should be advised that in the event of obvious impairment those involved in safety-sensitive occupations will be asked to undergo medical assessment. If testing for drugs is indicated refusal to submit to testing may result in a presumption of noncompliance with the health requirements of the job.
Alcohol impairment should not be tolerated, and legislation should be considered that would set a legal blood alcohol level for safety-sensitive occupations. Breathalyzers or other detection methods could be used if alcohol impairment is suspected in a person holding safety-sensitive occupation. As stated previously, refusal to submit to testing may result in a presumption of noncompliance with the health requirements of the job.
These measures should be discussed with labour and management. Labour should be expected to recognize drug-related impairment as a serious health and safety issue, and management should demonstrate its concern by ensuring access to treatment, prevention and educational programs such as employee assistance programs.