If you’re taking more than one drug — prescription or OTC — you’re playing with fire.
Believe it or not, suffering a fatal drug interaction is the fourth-leading cause of death in the U.S.
And whenever you pick up an Rx at the pharmacy these days, studies have found that you’re probably not getting the full story about how that drug can harm you.
Plus that, according to a just-out poll by a professor at the University of Michigan Medical School, less than half of patients aren’t even asking their doctors or pharmacists about potential interactions. Apparently, they believe that the fancy computer programs healthcare workers have at their disposal will sound an alarm when drugs don’t mix.
But that’s obviously not the case.
The good news is that it’s incredibly easy to take matters into your own hands. And by simply making a quick check, you’ll be doing a lot more than just staying informed.
You could very well be saving your life.
Failure to warn
Becki Conway could have been spared a horrific near-death experience if only someone had bothered to double-check on the two drugs she had been prescribed — Depakote and Lamictal.
The fact that combining them can result in a fatal skin rash called Stevens-Johnson syndrome has been known for years — and yet, Conway was given both without a second thought. Within days she was fighting for her life in a hospital as her skin peeled “off in sheets.”
And drug interactions as serious — and preventable — as that are happening every single day.
Dr. David Juurlink, who heads the clinical pharmacology and toxicology department at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Center in Toronto, Canada, says that “drug interactions hurt and kill” more than you would ever imagine.
Often, he says, death from bad drug combos are officially stated to be from “heart disease” or “old age.” One example he gives is the combining of a common antibiotic with certain blood pressure meds, which can cause a deadly spike in your blood potassium levels.
So, not only are these interactions not being caught before patients take drugs home, but there’re not being noticed after they kill, either!
The new Michigan Medical School poll I mentioned found that seniors have become way too casual about taking multiple meds. Only 1 in 3 patients surveyed (out of 1,700) asked a doctor or pharmacist about potential drug interactions. And of those who take six or more meds, less than half bothered to pose that simple but life-saving question.
And last year the Chicago Tribune did its own study, sending a reporter around to various big-name pharmacy chains in the Chicago area with five different drug pairings that can be deadly.
In that investigation, over 50 percent of the pharmacies failed to notice, with the worst being CVS at a 63 percent failure rate! Kmart flunked 60 percent of the time, and Wal-Mart didn’t pass muster in 43 percent of the tests.
It’s simply unbelievable that these big pharmacies could be so lax.
Part of the problem, as I just told you last week, is that pharmacists are being rushed to do their jobs like rats on a wheel. But whatever the other reasons might be, it’s obvious that you can no longer trust the idea that you’re going to be given these vital warnings.
Luckily, you can do some easy sleuthing on your own.
One way is to type webmd.com/interaction-checker in the address bar of your web browser on your phone or computer and put in the names of all the drugs (OTC and Rx) you’re taking to check for interactions.
Another, if you have an iPhone, is to download a free app called “My RxProfile” that allows you to scan barcodes of OTC meds and take a picture of prescription ones to check for interactions.
But remember to also ask your doctor or pharmacist as well. And that should include questioning them about which foods or beverages to avoid… if you can have alcoholic drinks while taking a drug… and if you should take them on an empty stomach or after meals.
Because when the stakes are this high, you want to give yourself the benefit of as big a safety net as is humanly possible.
To Knowing What the Risks Are,
P.S. Watch your inbox tomorrow for a very important eAlert about one of the biggest daily threats to your health. This invisible menace constantly surrounds us, and the feds have allowed it to get worse practically every single day. HSI panel member Dr. Allan Spreen will also weigh in with a critical new way to protect yourself from this ever-present danger. Stay tuned!