No Quick Solution for Preventing Drug Interactions

2010-03-21 | |
Last updated: 2010-03-21
drug interactions difficult to prevent

In the simplest sense, our bodies are a collection of ongoing chemical reactions involving a very large number of very complicated chemicals. When these reactions take place appropriately, the result is good health and many long years of life. When these reactions go bad, however, the results can quickly cause illness and even death.

One of the key ways in which we typically affect the chemical processes in our bodies is through the use of medications.

As a key part of modern medicine, medications work to correct the effects of many illnesses and health issues that we experience. These drugs take years to develop and involve many rounds of clinical trials to determine both their effectiveness and to ensure their safety.

Drug interaction studies are also a part of the process and are designed to minimize unpredicted effects that might occur when patients use two or more drugs at the same time. Realistically, however, it is not feasible for the designers of drugs to check for all possible drug interactions that might occur given the vast and growing number of medications that exist in the field of medicine.

The untested interplay of these drugs means that patients with numerous conditions that require medications are at greater risk of drug interactions because of all the medications that they take at the same time.

That said, the lack of drug testing is by no means the sole reason why drugs may damage people’s health. Another problem is that doctors are not always aware of all the common drug interactions.

Researchers at the University of Arizona found in a study of more than 12,000 US doctors, that doctors only identified 43% of the potentially dangerous drug combinations involving very common drug interactions. Clearly, it is a challenge for doctors to keep track of all the possible problems of combining specific drugs.

Another important cause of drug combinations harming health is because patients do not always disclose to their doctor all of the medications or alternative remedies that they might be taking, do not follow their prescriptions and sometimes even choose which medications to use by themselves. Based on the findings from a survey by a US company responsible for managing corporate drug benefit plans, only 46% of Americans take their prescriptions according to the instructions.

The overall effect of all these combined risks contributes to the more than 100,000 fatal cases of adverse drug effects (ADE) that occur in the US annually. In total, more than 1.5 million people or 2% of the population in that country are harmed or killed as a result of the very medication that is intended to maintain or improve their health.

Typically, those most vulnerable to the risks of drug interactions are those who are older. With almost 1 in 3 older adults taking more than 5 prescription medications and Statistics Canada indicating that older adults fill prescriptions 5 times as often as people who are younger, it quickly becomes clear why they are the people most likely to be affected. The information also explains why older adults are the most likely to be hospitalized as a result.

Unfortunately, drug interactions also hit those who are recovering after previous hospital treatment and are even more vulnerable. In fact, researchers from the Royal Liverpool and Broadgreen University Hospitals found that drug interactions are responsible for 20% of hospital readmissions by patients who had received earlier treatment. This number represents a very large problem.

Now, while some will advocate that these problems are readily resolved by keeping the population educated and in charge of their medications, research does not support this stance.

Research performed at the University of East Anglia found that in the UK, pharmacist reviews of patient medications with patients did not decrease the number of hospital visits caused by drug interactions. In fact, the reviews caused an increase in hospital visits by 30%. The researchers suggest that patients who reviewed their medications with their pharmacists might be more diligent in taking their medication and may actually experience more side effects.

As a result, more than patient education is required. To protect our own health or the health of our loved ones, each of us must take our medications as prescribed and must share the details of our medications with our doctors and pharmacists. However, patients taking medications must also question their health providers whenever they are not feeling right for any length of time. We must ask the same questions to each of our doctors and to our pharmacists.

Ask them if drugs or drug interactions may be causing a specific problem. Any of these health care contributors might know something that another does not, so it’s in our best interests to constantly “check facts” with each of them if we are not feeling well.

Have you had an adverse drug reaction or had problems from the medications you have taken? Share your experiences with others in the health forums.

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