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Overprescribing: Medical Errors Caused by Neglectful Overprescription

August 28th, 2014

Hundreds of billions of dollars are spent in the United States each year on prescription drugs, and many of them are prescribed incorrectly or are unnecessary. Though it is common for patients to assume that their physician is infallible, or simply to trust their education, knowledge and experience, there is significant evidence supporting the idea of asking questions about why a specific drug or treatment is being prescribed, whether it might be contraindicated based on other medicines you’re taking, and whether there are other options that might be more appropriate.


Though there is no doubt that the majority of prescriptions that are written are beneficial and appropriate, millions of them are not. They may be written for the wrong drug based on the physician’s mistake, they may be unnecessary, and they may be prescribed in dosages that are dangerous or that cause negative side effects. The question that should always be asked when a medicine is prescribed is whether the benefits of taking it outweigh the risks, and it is unfortunate that the question is not asked frequently enough. This is particularly true with older patients. A recent study found that 21.3% of those living in elder-care communities were inappropriately prescribed at least one medication, and this was especially true of females.  Another study estimated that elderly patients were prescribed at least one inappropriate drug 16.7 million times in a single year.


Inappropriate prescribing wastes money and risks serious consequences ranging from adverse reactions, to required hospitalization, to death from preventable reactions to drugs that should not have been prescribed.  There are a number of causes of inappropriate prescribing, and the most common are listed below. Make sure that you are asking questions when your physician prescribes a medication to make sure that these errors do not happen to you or a loved one.


  • Drugs are prescribed to address an adverse reaction rather than a disease. This occurs when a physician does not recognize an adverse drug reaction and so prescribes an additional medication where lowering the dose of a previously prescribed drug, or discontinuing its use, would be the appropriate course of action. This is most common in treatments for depression, insomnia, constipation, sexual dysfunction and psychoses.
  • Drugs are prescribed before lifestyle changes are suggested or attempted. A number of common medical conditions can be treated through a variety of lifestyle changes. Examples include losing weight to address diabetes, beginning an exercise program to combat cardiovascular problems or obesity, quitting smoking to address a myriad of health conditions, or discontinuing the use of caffeine after 2:00 p.m. in order to combat insomnia. Healthy changes should always be the first line of defense.
  • Drug therapy is not appropriate because the illness is self-limiting and the medication is not effective. This is most commonly the case for treating viruses and colds with antibiotics.
  • The medication is a less preferable alternative to other drugs. This is most frequently the case when the patient has a known allergy or the drug is contraindicated because of a health condition or because of other medications that the patient is taking.
    • Drugs are correctly prescribed but in the wrong dose. This is particularly true with older adults, whose metabolisms slow and are not able to process the drugs as quickly as younger adults. It is also true with smaller people. Special care needs to be taken for dosing in these cases.

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Gavin P. Lentz, Esq.
Bochetto & Lentz

Gavin Lentz (right) was selected as a "Super Lawyer" for 2006-2009 and 2010-2015 in New Jersey by Philadelphia Magazine. He has also been selected as a "Super Lawyer" by Philadelphia Magazine and the Legal Intelligencer in 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2011 - 2015.

On September 16, 2002 Mr. Lentz was selected as one of the top 50 lawyers in Pennsylvania by the Legal Intelligencer.

He has made many television appearances, including on Fox News, The Today Show, Inside Edition, and The Phil Donahue Show.

Mr. Lentz is a member of the American Trial Lawyers Association and the Million Dollar Advocates Forum.

As a former prosecutor, he knows how to aggressively go after large pharmacy chains to prove the facts necessary to protect your loved one's rights.

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