Staying Safe: How to Avoid Drug Accidents and Drug Injury
Staying safe and avoiding many drug accidents and drug injuries means taking active steps any time a prescription or over-the-counter medication, or herbal and nutritional supplement is involved. While you cannot control the drug’s development, research, testing, or manufacturing process, you can control how you interact with all new medications. The best advice is to find the highest qualified professionals, get the best and most current information available, and make the most serious and well-considered decisions possible every time you take a drug into your body.
As part of your plan to know more, consider the following important information and key strategies when considering a new prescription or new medication:
Discuss All Your Drugs with Your Doctor
Certainly the most effective way of avoiding drug injury is discussing with every doctor you visit all of your medications including prescription, over-the-counter, as well as herbal and nutritional supplements. This is especially true before starting any new drug therapy. The best place to start is often with your primary care doctor, informing him/her of all of the drugs you are taking in order to make sure that there are no possible dangerous interactions with any new drugs you plan to take.
Patients taking several different prescriptions and a combination of other non-prescription drugs often have a difficult time remembering their exact medications and the dosages when at the doctor’s office. A good strategy is to bring all of your current medicines with you to the doctor or create and update a master list that inventories the brand name, dosage amounts and other key information. With an overview of all of your medications, your physician can then advise you on any potential drug interactions that might occur with the new drug you plan to take and help you avoid any unnecessary risk.
KEY STRATEGY – Bring and discuss all of your current medications or an updated list every time you go to the doctor and especially before beginning any new prescription or drug therapy.
Use the Same Pharmacy for All Your Prescriptions
Another good way to keep you safe from harmful drug interactions is to always use one pharmacy or one pharmacy chain to fulfill all of your prescription medication. While it sometimes may be more convenient, for whatever reason, to use multiple drug stores or even online fulfillment centers, this effectively eliminates the chances that a pharmacist will be able to monitor all your medications for conflicts that may cause you harm. It is always a good idea to inform both your doctors and your pharmacist of all medications (both prescription and over-the-counter, as well as herbal and nutritional supplements), especially when filling a first-time prescription or beginning a new drug therapy.
Avoid "Treating" Side Effects
Every meeting between you and your doctor may be the most important opportunity you have to avoid drug accidents and injury, because they are some of the rare times that you will have to discuss the possible side effects of each new drug you’re prescribed. Frequently several side effects will accompany the use of certain medications; and if a physician does not have an accurate measure of what you are taking, then he/she will not be able to give a proper evaluation of the side effects of a drug. The danger is that a physician may end up prescribing medication to treat side effects of other medications. This side effect treatment may go on for months, even years, if the doctor-patient relationship is not fully defined within the context of medications a patient is taking.
If you do not keep your doctor informed of all the medical care and treatment you are receiving, and any change in your prescriptions of non-prescription drugs, you make it harder for that doctor to provide the quality, comprehensive medical care you want and need. Be very frank and open about all your medications with your doctor and avoid having your doctor writing new prescriptions to treat side effects of drugs that he/she doesn’t know you’re currently taking.
Ask About Older, Proven Drugs
Generally speaking, newer is better. A newer car may offer safety features or better fuel economy than an older model. A newer consumer product may do the same job cheaper, faster, and better than the products that came before. In the case of prescription drugs, however, newer is not always better. In fact, in some cases, it can be much worse.
Over the course of the past fifteen years, consumer groups, scientists, and physicians have all strongly urged people to simply avoid newly approved drugs. The reasons are simple but important. With new regulations on how drugs are approved, many newer drugs have not been fully evaluated for their long-term side effects when they first come to market. In fact, some drugs are in their second or third year on the market before serious consequences of treatment begin to emerge in patients. Because of the shorter evaluation process, the best advice is to wait at least 2-3 years before starting prescriptions involving new-to-the-marketplace drugs.
It’s important to understand that there are times when a new drug, especially one that deals with an immediate life-threatening condition – a revolutionary cancer treatment drug, for example – should not be avoided. But "miracle" drugs are often few and far between. More often, a drug company is bringing a different variation of an existing treatment to market – often called a "me, too" drug. These newer, less-proven versions of effective well-proven drugs are the ones that should be generally avoided.
When your doctor prescribes a new drug for any given ailment or condition, take the time to discuss what exactly the drug is meant to do and then ask if there is an older, existing drug that might offer the same medical benefit. If the new drug therapy that your doctor wants to prescribe is not a question of life or death, then it is worth considering all of your options. Surprisingly, older medications can often not only be safer but a better value because they are generally cheaper and just as effective as newer ones.
Before beginning a prescription – ask your doctor. If a new drug has a very brief track record on the market, find out if there is another similar, proven drug that can do the job just as well without the risk.
KEY STRATEGY – Avoid newer and unproven "me, too" drugs by asking your doctor if there are older drugs that provide the same treatment and are already proven to be safe.
Research Your Prescription
Another fruitful way of preventing drug injury is performing your own careful research on the new drug therapy that your doctor is recommending. This step is crucial. You should never start out on a new prescription without first having taken the time to properly investigate and acquire full up-to-date knowledge of the drug and its history for yourself. The easiest way to research a drug is to search online for the drug’s name and cross-reference it with the terms "safety risk" or "lawsuit." Other general sites, provide good basic research information, as well:
When researching, be sure to check and see if the drug history indicates that the drug may be dangerous and require more investigation:
Recent Labeling Changes – labeling changes often reflect new information that a drug company is either discovering about the drug or new warnings they are being required to share. One of the most important labeling changes is the addition of a "black box" warning on a package insert.
"Black Box" Warnings – "Black Box" Warnings can be found on a package insert in a black outlined box above the regular drug warnings. "Black Box" warnings include important details for patients regarding dangerous and potentially deadly side-effects.
The Package Insert – The drug package insert will contain more complete information regarding types of clinical trials carried out on the drug, warnings, precautions, and contraindications.
If there have been any problems with the drug in question, there will typically be a lot of information on the types of drug injury that have occurred or can potentially occur on this medicine. Ask your doctor questions about the information you find – your health is important and it’s your right to know.
The internet is full of medical sites that present a wealth of drug information, often unfortunately in highly technical jargon. The FDA’s site is one of the top web sites for drug research, but it is highly technical and can be challenging for most non-medically trained readers. The site, however, does offer a very effective Index to Drug-Specific Information which lets you search for a drug by name to see important patient information and learn whether that drug has an active FDA Safety Alert. Not all FDA approved drugs are on the list, but it covers many of the most popular drugs on the market today:
Another important resource for the web is Public Citizen, a substantial collection of consumer interest information available to the public. Public Citizen has its own specialty website - Worstpills - that deals specifically with bad drugs and recent drug news. Although portions of Worstpills.org are subscriber –only, a sizeable amount of the consumer drug information content on the site is accessible to the public free of charge.
Be Cautious About Free Samples
Free drug samples indicate a strong push by a pharmaceutical company to market a new drug. What may seem like a great way to save a little money in the beginning may lead to a much more expensive accident or even deadly injury in the end. Remember that while there have been many safe drugs initially introduced to patients through free samples given out by doctors, each of the recent drugs which have proved unsafe and been recalled (Vioxx, for example) all began as free samples, as well.
Patients should be very careful about accepting free drug samples from pharmaceutical companies. Often times free drug samples are drugs that have a great deal of competition in the marketplace. If there is a great deal of competition for a certain market, companies will be giving away a lot of drugs for free in order to establish a foothold in that market. It’s always a safer bet to use a drug that has an established track record as opposed to a free sample.
Read the next article: When Accidents Happen: Adverse Reactions and Drug Injuries