The Society of Hospital Pharmacists of Australia: treatments pharmacists and consumers should question

Frail, elderly patients are more susceptible to the adverse effects of medicines. There is limited evidence to support the use of many medicines in elderly patients as they are typically excluded from clinical trials. One study has estimated the cost to the PBS of potentially inappropriate medication in older patients is between $240 and $450 million each year.

The use of medicines used to prevent a condition, or disease, or those with a long ‘time to benefit’ profile may not be consistent with the life expectancy of the patient and their goals of care.

The proactive de-prescribing of medicines that no longer provide a benefit to the patient is integral to end-of-life care and advance care planning. Patients or their carer, or designated guardian, should be involved in the decision to review treatment and the ongoing need for each medicine.

Supporting evidence

  • Hardy JE, Hilmer SN. Deprescribing in the last year of life. J Pharm Pract Res 2011; 41(2):146-51.
  • Elliott RA, Stehlik P. Identifying inappropriate prescribing for older people. J Pharm Pract Res 2013;43(4):312-9. 
  • Scott IA, Le Couteur DG. Physicians need to take the lead in deprescribing. Intern Med J 2015;45(3):352-6. 
  • Scott IA, Hilmer SN, Reeve E, Potter K, Le Couteur D, Rigby D et al. Reducing inappropriate polypharmacy. JAMA Internal Medicine 2015;175(5):827-34. 

Antibiotics may be prophylactic, empirical or targeted against a known organism.

Prolonged duration of antibiotics is associated with: an increased risk of adverse reactions, Clostridium difficile infection, candidiasis, selection of antibiotic resistant organisms as well as unnecessary cost. Therefore the shortest possible duration of therapy should be used. For the majority of infections treatment should not exceed 7 days.

The most appropriate duration of therapy may be difficult to identify in some circumstances. In these instances treatment duration must be individualised for the patient on the basis of clinical, microbiological or radiological parameters. If ongoing treatment is required a date for review should be identified.

Patients should be advised that using antibiotics when they don’t need them can contribute to the problem of antibiotic resistance. They should be advised, when the antibiotic is prescribed and dispensed, when the antibiotic is to finish, or the date to be reviewed.

Supporting evidence

  • File TM Jr. Duration and cessation of antimicrobial treatment. J Hosp Med 2012;7(1) suppl 1:S22-S33.
  • Havey TC, Fowler RA, Daneman N. Duration of antibiotic therapy for bacteremia: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Crit Care 2011;15:R267. 
  • Brown K, Valenta K, Fisman D, Simor A, Daneman N. Hospital ward antibiotic prescribing and the risks of Clostridium difficile infection. JAMA Internal Medicine 2015;175(4):626-33. 
  • Stuart RL, Wilson J, Bellaard-Smith E, Brown R, Wright L, Vandergraaf S et al. Antibiotic use and misuse in residential aged care facilities. Intern Med J 2012;42(10):1145-9. 
  • Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care. Antimicrobial prescribing practice in Australian hospitals: results of the 2014 National Antimicrobial Prescribing Survey. Sydney: ACSQHC; 2015. 
  • Antibiotics Expert Groups. Therapeutic guidelines: antibiotics. Version 15. Melbourne: Therapeutic Guidelines Limited; 2014. 

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Behavioural and psychological symptoms of dementia (BPSD) are often temporary. The mainstay treatment of BPSD is non-pharmacological. Antipsychotic medicines should only be considered when non-pharmacological interventions have failed and the patient has symptoms that are distressing for them, their family or co-residents.

Patients or their carer, or designated guardian, should be involved in the decision to begin treatment with an antipsychotic medicine. Consideration needs to be given to the patient’s ability to appreciate the consequences of refusing, or agreeing to, treatment.

If used, the dose of the antipsychotic medicine should be increased as slowly as necessary with the goal of using the lowest effective dose for the shortest possible time. The effectiveness of the medicine and the occurrence of delirium, sedation, or anti-cholinergic side effects should be assessed at least weekly.

Treatment should be reviewed after no more than 3 months and the dose should be reduced and then stopped wherever possible.

Supporting evidence

  • Britton ME. Drugs, delirium and older people. J Pharm Pract Res 2011;41(3):233-8.
  • Westbury J, Beld K, Jackson S, Peterson GM. Review of psychotropic medication in Tasmanian residential aged care facilities. Australasian Journal on Ageing 2010;29(2):72-6. 
  • Snowdon J, Galanos D, Vaswani D. Patterns of psychotropic medication use in nursing homes: surveys in Sydney, allowing comparisons over time and between countries. International Psychogeriatrics 2011;23(9):520-1525. 
  • Ballard CG, Waite J, Birks J. Atypical antipsychotics for aggression and psychosis in Alzheimer’s disease. Cochrane Database of Syst Rev. 2006, Issue 1 CD003476. 
  • Liperoti R, Pedone C, Corsonello A. Antipsychotics for the treatment of behavioral and psychological symptoms of dementia (BPSD). Curr Neuropharmacol 2008; 6(2): 117-24. 
  • Gareri P, De Fazio P, Graziella V, Manfredi L, De Sarro G. Use and safety of antipsychotics in behavioral disorders in elderly people with dementia. J Clin Psychopharmacol 2014;34:109-3.
  • Psychotropic Expert Groups. Therapeutic guidelines: psychotropic. Version 7. Melbourne: Therapeutic Guidelines Limited; 2013. 

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Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medicines (NSAIDs) are frequently used in the short term to treat moderate acute pain. They are not usually required after the cause of the acute pain has been addressed. Treatment should be re-assessed if the acute pain is ongoing and not resolved within 2 weeks.

Oral NSAIDs have considerable cardiovascular, gastrointestinal and kidney function risks. They should not be recommended without consideration of the patient’s additional diseases or conditions; in particular older people and people with kidney disease, a history of peptic ulcer disease, hypertension or heart failure.

Older people should use the lowest possible dose of an oral NSAID, for the shortest duration possible and multiple NSAIDs should not be taken at the same time.

The effectiveness of long-term oral NSAID treatment should be routinely assessed against the individual patient’s management plan. If possible the total dose should be reduced or ceased.

Supporting evidence

  • Ong CKS, Lirk P, Tan CH, Seymour RA. An evidence-based update on nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. Clin Med Res 2007;5(1):19-34.
  • Marcum ZA, Hanlon JT. Recognizing the risks of chronic nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug use in older adults. Ann Longterm Care 2010;18(9):24-7.
  • Barkin RL, Beckerman M, Blum SL, Clark FM, Koh E,DS Wu. Should Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs) be Prescribed to the Older Adult? Drugs Aging 2010;27(10):775-789. 
  • Analgesics Expert Groups. Therapeutic guidelines: analgesic. Version 6. Melbourne: Therapeutic Guidelines Limited; 2012. 

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Products containing low dose (<12mg) codeine per tablet combined with another analgesic medicine are available without a prescription and are commonly recommended for the treatment of mild to moderate pain.

Codeine is converted to morphine in the body to work. The extent of this metabolism depends on each individual’s pharmacogenetics, which are not readily known and highly variable between individuals.

There is evidence that doses of codeine less than 30 mg every 6 hours, are no more effective than paracetamol or an NSAID alone. Therefore, combination products that contain low dose codeine should not be recommended for mild to moderate pain. If used their effectiveness should be assessed within 48 hours. If symptoms persist the product should be ceased and the patient referred for further assessment.

Codeine can lead to constipation, nausea, vomiting, bloating and abdominal pain. Any of these symptoms can impact on quality of life.

Supporting evidence

  • Murnion BP. Combination analgesics in adults. Australian Prescriber 2010;32(4):113-115.
  • Ledema J. Cautions with codeine. Australian Prescriber. 2011;34(5):133-135.
  • Derry S, Moore RA, McQuay HJ. Single dose oral codeine, as a single agent, for acute postoperative pain in adults. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2010 Apr 14; (4): CD008099.
  • Signal Investigation Unit. Codeine use in children and ultra-rapid metabolisers: Pharmacovigilance and Special Access Branch Safety Review. Version 1.0. Canberra: Therapeutic Goods Administration; 2015.
  • Analgesics Expert Groups. Therapeutic guidelines: analgesic. Version 6. Melbourne: Therapeutic Guidelines Limited; 2012.

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A working party was formed and they sought suggestions from SHPA’s Committees of Specialty Practice, Reference Groups, State and Territory branches and Federal Council.  More than 40 proposed statements were considered by the working party.  A shortlist of 10 statements was identified for consideration by the SHPA’s membership through an online survey.  All members were invited to comment on each proposed statement, specifically: whether it related to the practice of pharmacy, related to medicines that are frequently used, and if a significant cost.  Members were also invited to rate the statements in order of preference.  The survey results were used by the working party to identify the final six statements which were presented to SHPA’s Federal Council who ratified the choice of the five final statements.

Last reviewed 01 March 2016

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