Americans Unaware of Drug Interactions

Articles
December 30, 2008

Americans Unaware of Drug Interactions

A recent study suggests that approximately two million Americans could be taking medications and/or supplements that could cause negative interactions. While older people are at more risk – half take five or more prescriptions, vitamins, or dietary supplements – some of these interactions are potentially life-threatening. The study showed that 175,000 emergency room visits per year are related to adverse drug interactions. Although drug interactions do not always cause serious reactions, many medicines and supplements do not require prescriptions, and patients assume that they are safe without consulting their doctor about possible side effects and drug-to-drug interactions. Experts advise that patients should always consult their physician when taking any medications or supplements. The report showing just how many older people are using risky combinations comes from a study of nearly 3,000 interviews with people aged 57 to 85. The research, funded by the National Institutes of Health and University of Chicago, appears in Wednesday's Journal of the American Medical Association. Ninety percent in this age group use at least one medication, and as people grow older, the number of medications used increases. The study highlights a few common potentially harmful interactions.

A recent study suggests that approximately two million Americans could be taking medications and/or supplements that could cause negative interactions. While older people are at more risk – half take five or more prescriptions, vitamins, or dietary supplements – some of these interactions are potentially life-threatening. The study showed that 175,000 emergency room visits per year are related to adverse drug interactions.

Although drug interactions do not always cause serious reactions, many medicines and supplements do not require prescriptions, and patients assume that they are safe without consulting their doctor about possible side effects and drug-to-drug interactions. Experts advise that patients should always consult their physician when taking any medications or supplements.

The report showing just how many older people are using risky combinations comes from a study of nearly 3,000 interviews with people aged 57 to 85. The research, funded by the National Institutes of Health and University of Chicago, appears in Wednesday's Journal of the American Medical Association.

Ninety percent in this age group use at least one medication, and as people grow older, the number of medications used increases. The study highlights a few common potentially harmful interactions.

- Warfarin, a potent prescription clot-fighting drug, was often taken with aspirin. Both increase the risk of bleeding, so the odds are even higher when both drugs are taken. The researchers said these risks also occur when warfarin is taken with garlic pills, which some studies have suggested can benefit the heart and help prevent blood clots. Signs of bleeding problems include bruising easily, hard-to-stop bleeding from the gums or from cuts and blood in the urine.

- Aspirin taken with over-the-counter ginkgo supplements, increasing chances for excess bleeding.

- Lisinopril, a blood pressure drug, taken with potassium, which combined can cause abnormal heart rhythms. Potassium is often prescribed to restore low levels of this important mineral caused by certain blood pressure drugs.

- Prescription cholesterol drugs called statins taken with over-the-counter niacin, a type of vitamin B that also lowers cholesterol. This combination increases risks for muscle damage.

Between June 2005 and March 2006, researchers gathered data from interviews of 2,976 adults, who were questioned about what medicines they routinely use. The researchers assessed how many people routinely used at least two medications of any type known to have dangerous or even fatal interactions. The number totaled at least one in 25, corresponding to 2.2 million nationwide.

The Institue for Safe Medication Practices has launched a website where consumers came enter the names of their medications and check for what could be harmful interactions. The site is located at http://www.consumermedsafety.org. However, it is most important for patients to remember that checking with their doctor about medications and their possible interactions is the safest road to take.