More than ever before, people are often more willing to take a handful of pills first and ask questions later. If you have a headache you take a pill. If your back hurts you take a pill. If you have a vitamin deficiency, you take a pill. Heck, even if you don’t have a vitamin deficiency you might take a pill just in case. The problem with all these pills is that they can have bad interactions when taken together.
Do you always tell your doctor about every over-the-counter, herbal, vitamin, and supplement you take? Even if you aren’t on any prescriptions, these things can cause dangerous drug interactions.
When you go to pick up an antibiotic at the drugstore, do you tell your pharmacist about all the extra things you take? Even things that don’t have side effects on their own can have bad side effects when taken together, and telling your doctor and pharmacist about every single thing you take regularly is a crucial step in preventing many of these harmful side effects.
All Medicines Are Drugs
- All medicines are drugs but not all drugs are medicines
- A medicine treats or prevents a certain ailment
- A drug triggers a certain response in the body
- Pharmaceuticals are manufactured compounds used as drugs or medicine
- Around 170 million people in America take pharmaceuticals
Side Effects Can Overshadow Benefits
Many times the side effects of a single prescription medication are negligible. Sometimes, however, those side effects can be so severe you have to do a cost-benefit analysis weighing whether you are better off with or without the medication. Other times some patients have to be on multiple medications at the same time, which can cause serious problems with interactions. Occasionally patients have to be treated for the side effects of a necessary medication with another medication, which causes still more side effects.
The bottom line is this: the fewer medications you are able to be on, the better off you are. Nearly 2 million people are hospitalized each year in the United States for adverse reactions to medications that have been properly prescribed. Even in the hospital, nearly 900,000 people each year are given medications that cause an adverse reaction. Over 100,000 people die each year from adverse reactions to properly prescribed medications.
The Opioid Epidemic
Prescriptions for opioids have steadily increased over the last decade. These days, “painkillers” are given out for everything from major surgery to a minor toothache.
This has caused an unfortunate uptick in heroin use in recent years, and news of people overdosing is a daily occurrence. In fact, it is estimated that a quarter of all patients who are prescribed opioids will become addicted, and the U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch said last year that marijuana is no longer considered a gateway drug, but rather the real gateway drug is prescription opioids.
The estimate of how many people receive hospital treatment for complications from prescription opioids is as high as 80%.
Even Tylenol Can Be Dangerous
Taking Tylenol as prescribed is often very safe, but taking too much causes 100,000 visits to the emergency room each year. When mixed with alcohol, the likelihood of liver problems increases.
It’s also very important to read the labels when you take prescription medications – over 600 of them use acetaminophen as part of their chemical recipe, so taking additional Tylenol with many prescriptions can be a recipe for disaster.
Herbal Does Not Mean Safe
Herbal supplements are not regulated by the FDA the same way medications are, so pharmacists and doctors aren’t always aware of side effects and potential drug interactions. Calcium supplements are known to reduce the absorption of certain medications, while fish oil supplements can increase the risk of bleeding when mixed with blood thinners or blood pressure medication. It’s important not only to discuss supplements you are taking with your doctor or pharmacist, but to also weigh the risk versus the reward.
See Also: What to Ask Your Pharmacist
Knowledge Is Power
Knowing what you take and making decisions based on need is the first step to decreasing the likelihood of adverse drug interactions. Maybe the daytime talk show host who told you to take that extra supplement didn’t care as much about your health as he did about his own ratings.
Learn more about the potentially dangerous side effects of drugs from this infographic!