Which prescription drugs could create a deadly combination?
(5/19/07 - KTRK/HOUSTON) (KTRK) -- Still fresh on our minds is the death of Anna Nicole Smith, who died of a drug overdose last February. It was the result of a combination of prescription drugs. This has brought to the forefront the possibility of it happening to anyone. Three billion prescriptions are filled every year, and one out of every five have serious side effects.
Smith had nine prescription drugs in her body when she died.
"She stopped breathing from kind of the ultimate adverse reaction," said UT Houston Emergency Physician Dr. David Hoyer.
Could it happen to you? Yes, it happens to 100,000 people a year, who die because of an adverse drug reaction. The Institute of Medicine says a million more are hurt by the very drugs their doctors gave them for healing.
"A lot of pain meds repress what they call a respiratory drive and so if people get really overdosed, they stop breathing," said Jeffrey Sherer with the UH College of Pharmacy.
Sherer says pain meds can quickly form a dangerous combination. And you don't have to take nine to get in trouble. When Ralph Berkman's friend lost consciousness...
"They said, 'Oh, you shouldn't have been taking those two drugs together'," he said.
He ended up in the ER. Dr. Hoyer oversaw an ER study.
"The study showed 1 in 100 ER visits are due to adverse drug effects," he found.
One in six were hospitalized. Half were seniors.
Berkman takes nine medicines. He marks the morning pills with an 'M' and the night meds with an 'N.' He also carries a list of his medicines in his wallet.
"That I can give to the doctor at anytime," he explained.
Another big killer -- sleep medicines.
"They take more than one prescription sleep medicine or they mix prescription sleep meds with alcohol, or a pain medication," said Sherer.
And listen to this -- lifesaving antibiotics like Cipro can by knocked out by antacids. Little antacids can block the absorption of major antibiotics like Cipro, Zithromax, and Tetracycline. And iron supplements can block antibiotics, too.
"If they're taking an antacid, a Tums or something along those lines, and a prescription medicine -- just don't take them at the same time," said Sherer.
Other over-the-counter meds to watch out for -- decongestants which can cancel out blood pressure medicines.
"With the decongestant type drugs, blood pressure can go to a dangerously high place," explained Sherer.
Painkillers like aspirin and Advil can raise blood pressure too.
And no cold and cough medicines for children under two. Three children died and 1,500 ended up in the hospital. So the CDC says avoid cold meds for babies unless a doctor tells you otherwise.
"Be careful," warned Dr. Hoyer. "Don't always insist on getting a medicine from every doctor you see."
Senior adults have to be especially careful because meds can build up in their body. Others who are at risk are people who take:
- Two or more medicines
- Seizure drugs
- And some heart drugs
And very important -- use one pharmacy to help catch a drug interaction before it can happen.
There is a way to check your own medicines for possible drug interactions. There is a website where you can plug in your medicines and find out if they could interact.
(Copyright © 2007, KTRK-TV)
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