The Sad Story of Two Friends
Each time a doctor prescribes a drug for me, I face the critical decision of whether to take the medication or not. A tiny pill can either improve my health and life or take both away. My frightening experiences with drug side effects, however, pale in comparison to what drugs did to two of my friends. Both died the same year.
Two different, newly released prescription drugs were involved. Each carried serious side effects. Safer drugs could have been used for their health issues, and such medications were, in fact, previously used by each of my friends without incident.
My First Friend
When a doctor prescribed a drug to my friend over the phone, he failed to consider her other medical conditions or medications. Had he done so, he would have flagged the new prescriptions as contraindicated.
When the drug failed to relieve her joint pain, he doubled the dose—again over the phone. That was the fatal blow. Within days, the drug shut down her kidneys, causing heart failure. She died.
There were many safer treatments available for her condition, but a careless doctor with a lack of relevant knowledge killed her. A few months later, I again watched another friend die from a prescription drug.
My Second Friend
This time the culprit was a cholesterol-lowering statin. The medication, which causes devastating muscle destruction, attacked his heart, kidneys and other vital organs. Within days, his body shut down.
The drug was later taken off the market. My friend’s family joined others across the United States to sue the pharmaceutical company. The drug that killed him, however, is not the only statin to be linked to a muscle-weakening effect. At the time of this writing, those drugs continue to be prescribed.
(See: “What Is Statin-Induced Myopathy or Muscle Pain?” Healthline, 11 July 2017.)
I try to protect myself from risks like those faced by my friends. I research drugs before agreeing to take them and, thankfully, know where to look for that information.
The PDR and Drug Inserts--It’s an Open Book
Finding drug information is not difficult. Pharmaceutical companies include relevant facts in the insert packaging and list the known risks in the Physicians’ Desk Reference (PDR). The PDR, an annual publication, lists all drugs licensed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The book provides more comprehensive information than that which is provided in the Patient Package Insert (PPI). The PPI only tells a patient how to use a drug safely. I prefer to read the inserts for professionals. I want more detailed information about the drug itself as well as its risks and side effects.
I will usually open a medical dictionary website to help me when needed as the vocabulary can be technical. I also use the, website www.rxlist.com to look up specific drugs. The site, which was active at the time of this publication, provides both patient and professional information. I sometimes find it helpful to refer to both.
Additionally, I receive a newsletter from www.Drugs.com that includes drug updates, FDA alerts, drug warnings and recalls. At the time of this publication, visitors to the site could sign up for the newsletter at: https://www.drugs.com/account/register/.
What Are the Odds? What Are the Risks?
I am not against drugs. I take medications when needed, but not without prior research to determine if the prescription represents the safest and best option for my problem.
Some people do not consider the available drug information important. They think the listed side effects will not happen to them. If they’re lucky, they will escape any potential harm. Sometimes odds are in the patient’s favor. For example, research shows that the use of certain SSRIs, prescribed for depression, increases the risk of a stroke by one in 10,000.
(See: Press Release, “Antidepressants Linked to Increased Risk of Stroke, But Risk is Low,” American Academy of Neurology, 17 October 2012.)
Some people may be willing to bet that they have a better chance of being one of the 9,999 people who do not suffer a stroke than to be that one lone person who does. I don’t use the odds to decide whether I will take or reject a drug. I weigh the risks. For me, the risk of stroke does not warrant the use of the medication. Unless my life is on the line and there are no safer treatments that can help, I would probably decline to take that drug. If I become the one person to have a stroke from that drug, the risk has far outweighed the odds. What if all along there were other effective, available treatments that do not carry the stroke risk? Wouldn’t that be a more viable choice?
Over the years when I have researched a prescribed drug in the PDR, I have often found that there are safer drugs available to accomplish the same goal. Armed with that information, I discussed alternatives with the prescribing doctor. On one occasion, the doctor froze for a moment in thought when I suggested a safer drug with fewer side effects. Finally, he realized that my suggestion would work as well and changed the prescription without argument.
The Problem with Drug Interactions
A drug interaction occurs when one medication affects or interferes with the function of another. According to a report in Medline Plus, the more drugs a person takes the higher the risk of drug interactions. (“Take Multiple Medicines Safely,” Medline Plus.)
While most interactions are usually not life-threatening, some can lead to serious, even fatal consequences. (Leigh Ann Anderson, PharmD, “Top 9 Ways to Prevent a Deadly Drug Interaction,” Drugs.com, 4 January 2020.)
To prevent a drug interaction, I either check with my pharmacist before taking a new drug, or I use the “Drug Interaction Checker” at drugs.com.
The Problem with Long-Term Drug Use
The chronic nature of MVPS often makes drug use a long-term proposition. The potential for side effects increases over time even if no problems are seen with initial use. According to a report by MedShadow, “… new research shows that taking baby aspirin for as little as three months can double the risk of macular degeneration ten years after taking aspirin. Worse, patients may not be informed that long-term effects aren’t known for many common drugs.” Susanne B. Robotti, “What are Long-Term Effects of Medicine?” Healthy Skeptic
Heartburn drugs provide another good example of this long-term use. On many occasions I have been offered such medications for acid reflux. I am not comfortable with the potential future side effects as reported in Science Daily, “Popular Heartburn Drugs Linked to Higher Early Death Risk,” 5 July 2017.
The article includes the following: “Popular heartburn drugs called proton pump inhibitors (PPIs), which many people take for years, have been linked to a variety of health problems during extended use. These side effects include serious kidney damage, bone fractures and dementia. A study from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis showed that longtime use of these drugs is also associated with an increased risk of death.”