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Are You Taking a Deadly Drug Combination?

How many medications do you take?

According to the American Society of Health System Pharmacists, more than 40 percent of people over the age of 65 are taking five or more medications. Thirty-four percent of seniors take medications that were prescribed by more than one physician. Seventy two percent are taking at least one medication that was prescribed more than six months ago. Why does this matter?

As people age, they tend to take more medications. One adult could be taking five, ten, or more medicines. These medications can interact with each other and cause unintended effects. For example, an elderly woman could be taking Synthroid for low thyroid hormone; Tenormin, Benicar, and Tekturn for high blood pressure; Lipitor for cholesterol; Namenda for early symptoms of suspected Alzheimer’s disease; Xanax for nighttime anxiety attacks; Lexapro for depression; Travatan eye drops for glaucoma; low-dose aspirin as a blood thinner, a multivitamin, and a stool softener. The woman was hospitalized after an episode of weakness, sleepiness, and confusion. She was given still more medications. As she was being discharged from the hospital, she collapsed. Her heart began to fail.

At least one third of seniors who take five or more medications will suffer an adverse effect from the drug combination. These effects occur when one medication cancels the effects of another or when two or more medications combine to produce an unexpected effect. Side effects caused by drug combinations can include falls, disorientation, confusion, heart failure, and death. This is why caregivers need to be aware of the potential for drug interactions.

The best way to avoid such reactions is to carry a list of your medications. Keep the list updated and include any over-the-counter drugs or supplements. Show the list to the doctor and to your pharmacist. If your doctor misses a dangerous combination, your pharmacist might catch it.

Use a single pharmacy. There are advantages to using one drug store for all your prescription medicines. The pharmacist will enter a list of your medications and drug allergies into the computer. The computer will warn if a new drug could cause a dangerous interaction. Let your pharmacist know if you are taking any vitamins, supplements, herbal medicines, or natural remedies. These can also interact with prescription drugs.

Always read the printed leaflets that come with each prescription. Pay attention to the side effects and possible drug interactions. If you have any concerns, discuss them with your pharmacist or doctor.

If you or a loved one experiences a dangerous drug interaction, keep a list of the symptoms.

Doctors and pharmacists have a duty to warn patients of potentially dangerous drug interactions. If you lost a loved one to a dangerous drug combination, you and your family may eligible for monetary compensation through an wrongful death lawsuit. To learn more, contact the personal injury lawyers at Hupy and Abraham at 515-984-0091, or call our toll-free number 1-800-800-5678.

Jason F. Abraham
Managing Partner, Hupy and Abraham