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The Danger of Drug Reactions & Interactions

Simple Ways to Minimize the Risks

By Julie Engebretson

With approximately 13,000 (and counting) prescription drugs on the market, roughly 100,000 over-the-counter (OTC) drug products widely available, and a pharmaceutical industry that seems intent on driving home the "just take a pill and you'll feel better" mentality for every condition imaginable, medication use is at an all-time high in this country.

The problem with this scenario is that each drug has a long list of potential side effects (just look at the paperwork that accompanies any prescription or OTC medication). And if you are taking more than one drug concurrently, you run the risk of suffering not only side effects from one or more of those medications, but also side effects caused by an interaction between the medications.

This scenario is especially true for seniors, who take more prescription medications than any other U.S. demographic. And with the first wave of baby boomers turning 65 in 2008, that senior demographic will only expand in the coming years.

How big is the risk associated with medication use? According to a startling report released in the summer of 2006 by the Institute of Medicine, at least 1.5 million patients are injured each year by medication errors - a sobering statistic. Other studies referenced in the report indicate that approximately 400,000 preventable drug-related injuries occur each year in hospitals; 800,000 occur in long-term care settings; and 530,000 occur just among Medicare recipients in outpatient clinics. And the authors of the report noted that these numbers are likely underestimates.

All Drugs Have Potential Side Effects

An ambulance speeding by. - Copyright – Stock Photo / Register Mark How big is the risk associated with medication use? According to a startling report released in the summer of 2006 by the Institute of medicine, at least 1.5 million patients are injured each year by medication errors. A prescription or OTC drug need not react with another drug to pose a threat. A single little pill, no matter its chemical makeup or documented success rate in treating a particular condition, is foreign to the body. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires tests (which typically last no longer than six months) before approving a medication; however, the drug's safety remains uncertain until it has been on the market for many years.

Any unexpected decrease or increase in a drug's activity or toxicity is considered an adverse drug reaction. More broadly stated, an adverse reaction is any poisonous response to a drug that occurs at the commonly prescribed dose. This definition also includes any undesirable or unexpected event requiring discontinuation of the drug, modification of the dose, prolonged hospitalization, or the administration of supportive treatment. Although not all drug reactions fit neatly into these categories, most adverse drug reactions are identifiable as either type A or type B.

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