Feinberg study shows veterans with reflux are over-medicated

Ally Mutnick, Assistant Campus Editor

A new Northwestern Medicine study shows that some United States veterans are being over-prescribed medications, according to a University news release.

Veterans with gastroesophageal reflux disease are often treated with proton pump inhibitors, more commonly known by brand names such as Prilosec. The NU study showed they are given higher doses and continue the treatment for longer than is recommended.

This study, which examined 1,600 patients at a Veteran’s Association hospital in Hines, Ill., was the first to look at the initial doses given to veterans who suffer from the reflux disease.

Proton pump inhibitors are one of the most widely used drugs in the U.S. According to the news release, the drug generates $11 billion in health costs each year.

The main findings showed almost 25 percent of patients were taking daily dosages that were too high. A majority of veterans received more than a three-month starting supply and very few had had reductions in high dose treatments more than two years after staring the prescription.

“It seems that once these veterans are prescribed a PPI, they are rarely taken off of it,” said Andrew Gawron, a gastroenterology fellow at the Feinberg School of Medicine who co-wrote the study. “Two years after their initial prescription, most are still on the drug.”

The lowest effective dose for the inhibitors lasts for one to two months, and if symptoms do not subside then other treatments should be considered, according the release.

Gawron co-wrote the study with senior author Sherri LaVela, a research assistant professor at the Center for Healthcare Studies at Feinberg.

The study, which used data from 2003 to 2009, was funded by a grant from the Veterans Affairs Health Services Research and Development Service. It was published Feb. 16 in the Journal of General Internal Medicine.

— Ally Mutnick