Drug Interaction Risk Studied
> 10/18/2006 2:15:57 PM

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention published the first batch of results from its national study of outpatient drug safety. The results can be found in the most recent edition of the Journal of the American Medical Association. One particular finding provides an eye-opening look at the seriousness of the problem of outpatient drug safety: over 700,000 Americans wind up in the emergency room every year for interactions between prescription drugs, over-the-counter drugs and herbal supplements. Those over 65 are at the greatest risk as they were twice as likely to been seen in an ER and seven times as likely to be admitted than their younger counterparts.

The Chicago Tribune (free sub. may be needed) reported:

The study, led by Dr. Daniel Budnitz of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, found the most common classes of drugs that sent people of any age for emergency treatment were insulins used in treating diabetes, opiate-containing painkillers such as OxyContin and blood thinners such as Coumadin.

Also common were allergic reactions to antibiotics containing amoxicillin, and reactions to antihistamines and over-the-counter cold remedies. Researchers were unable to track the number of deaths that such reactions caused.

One issue that is mentioned a number of times in all the coverage of this study is the failure of doctors and patients to effectively communicate regarding the drugs that are currently being used when a new one is prescribed. Often doctors will ask if the patient is taking other drugs, and patients won't think to list over-the-counter treatments or herbal supplements as they don't always think of them as drugs. But many OTC and herbal treatments can have dangerous interactions, both with each other and with prescription medications.

Doctors need to be sure to communicate the risks with any new medication that is being prescribed. They also must be clear about any potential interactions, especially with OTC and herbal remedies. For their part, patients need to communicate truthfully with their physician, and absolutely must follow the instructions that are provided with the prescription or other treatment. Those taking any medication should be aware that negative outcomes are a possibility and they shouldn't be afraid to contact their doctor if they encounter problems. Eliminating drug interaction problems is probably not feasible as there will always be unforeseen outcomes, but by communicating, following directions and practicing general safety, we can cut down on dangerous situations and costly hospital visits.

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