Medication Safety Articles

 

Black licorice candy is an old-fashioned favorite. But eating too much of it can cause health problems. So, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends snacking on this treat in moderation.

As people age, they often have more health problems. Many of these problems can be treated with medicines. Diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure, heart failure, and the inability to sleep may require long-term medicines to manage these conditions. When numerous different medicines (e.g., 5 or more) are taken at the same time, it is called polypharmacy.

If you watch television, flip through magazines or newspapers, surf online, or listen to the radio, you are probably familiar with “direct-to-consumer” advertisements (ads) for prescription medicines. The US and New Zealand are the only two developed countries that allow drug companies to advertise prescription medicines directly to the public. These ads are popular with new medicines that treat chronic conditions such as diabetes and insomnia. In fact, 8 of the top 10 selling medicines in the US currently broadcast or publish at least one “direct-to-consumer” ad portraying happy and satisfied patients. It’s a big business, with drug companies spending an estimated $6.5 billion on “direct-to-consumer” ads in 2016 alone.

Some prescription medicines can impair a person’s ability to drive. The 4 most common classes of medicines that cause impaired driving include: antidepressants, stimulants, sedatives, and opioids (narcotics). These medicines can make the driver sleepy, impair thinking, limit motor function, and/or make the driver more aggressive.

Sometimes, your doctor may write or send your prescription to the pharmacy with instructions to take the medicine “as directed.” In these cases, you must remember what the doctor has told you about how to take the medicine correctly. The label on the prescription container will not help you remember because the directions will simply say, “Use as directed.”

When you start a new medicine, you may get an upset stomach, feel tired, or get a rash. Is this an allergic reaction or just a side effect? It is important to understand the differences between allergies and side effects because they are handled very differently. Allergies can be serious and require immediate medical attention and avoidance of the medicine in the future. If you have side effects and your doctor thinks this is still the best medicine for you, steps can be taken to prevent the unintended side effects of the medicine. But you can still take the medicine.

The brand name Dramamine is the latest example of a well known, over-the-counter (OTC) medicine name being recycled for use in products that contain a different medicine or ingredients that differ from those in the original product. The original Dramamine (regular or chewable) contains 50 mg of dimenhydrinate (Figure 1). But there is now a Dramamine that contains a different medicine called meclizine 25 mg per tablet (Figure 2). And another product, Dramamine Non-Drowsy Naturals, does not contain a drug at all—it’s a supplement that only contains ginger root (Figure 3).

It is common for people with diabetes to use a blood glucose meter to monitor their blood sugar (glucose) level on a daily basis. The meters are designed to analyze a small amount of blood from a fingerstick that is put on a test strip and inserted into the machine. Usually, in less than a minute, the blood sugar level is reported.

Most people realize human error can happen, including when getting a prescription filled at the pharmacy. Although pharmacists do their best, mistakes sometimes happen. Thanks to safer medicine labels and technologies like barcode scanning, mistakes of the past are rapidly declining. The few pharmacy errors that do slip by usually do not cause serious or permanent harm. Still, that’s little consolation to a consumer who is harmed or could have been harmed if a more serious error had happened.  

A woman with colon cancer recently received a full dose of fluorouracil at home over 4 days instead of 7 days. Fluorouracil is a drug used to treat cancer by causing fast-growing cancer cells to die. The medicine was given directly into a vein (intravenously) through a portable infusion pump that the woman wore while she was at home. For an unknown reason, the full amount ran in too quickly, leading to an overdose of the medicine. The effects of an overdose are serious and can be fatal. The effects from the medicine infusing too quickly include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, mouth ulcers, stomach bleeding, and a weakened immune system (making it harder to fight off diseases).

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