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Drug Safety Becoming a Major Concern


A study released in 2007 showed that reports of serious adverse drug events reported to the FDA more than doubled between 1998 and 2005. A serious adverse drug event is defined as one that results in death, a birth defect, disability or hospitalization, or that needed intervention to avoid harm. resulted in the deaths of 5,519 people in 1998, 15,107 people in 2005 and is on track to reach 20,000 this year. A more recent study showed that the number of serious drug reactions and deaths shot up in the first three months of 2008, setting a new record.

Many theories exist as to why adverse drug reactions are skyrocketing. However, the sharp increases cannot be explained by an overall increase in prescriptions. The relative increase in adverse events was four times greater than the increase in prescriptions.

The single most identifiable reason for the dramatic increase in serious adverse events has to do with increased drug prescriptions to an older population. This actually has more to do with the way older people metabolize drugs than with the increased prescriptions in general.

It is clearly known that as we age, our body’s functions and metabolism change. Aging creates deficits in the way our body can metabolize drugs via the kidneys and liver. Decreased body weight as we age also increases the potency of prescriptions. A change in fat to muscle ratio allows drug metabolites to more readily build up in the body, potentially causing greater toxicity. A significant change in the way a human body metabolizes drugs starts as early as age 35 and can be significantly different by the time an individual reaches the age of 45. These factors are rarely taken into account when doctors write prescriptions. 

Of significant concern to older people, who often take multiple drugs, is the cumulative toxic effect that can occur when drugs are combined. While we may know the potential side effects of an individual drug, less is known about side effects that occur when multiple drugs are combined.

The Worst Drugs

Researchers compiled a list of medications that were most commonly identified to be either fatal or associated with disability and serious outcomes. #5 on the fatal events list, acetaminophen, is not even a prescription medication. Furthermore #8 on the disability and serious outcomes list, Lipitor, was the most prescribed drug in the U.S. in 2007.

Top 15 Drugs Associated with Fatal Events:

1.    Oxycodone
2.    Fentanyl
3.    Clozapine
4.    Morphine
5.    Acetaminophen
6.    Methadone
7.    Remicade
8.    Interferon
9.    Risperdal
10.  Enbrel
11.  Taxol
12.  Acetaminophen-hydrocodone (Vicodin, Lortab)
13.  Zyprexa
14.  Vioxx (no longer available in the U.S.)
15.  Paxil

Top 15 Drugs Associated with Disability or Serious Outcomes:

1.    Estrogens
2.    Insulin
3.    Remicade
4.    Interferon beta
5.    Paxil
6.    Vioxx (no longer available in the U.S.)
7.    Warfarin/Coumadin
8.    Lipitor
9.    Enbrel
10.  Celebrex
11.  Phentermine
12.  Clozapine
13.  Interferon alfa
14.  Zocor
15.  Effexor

Avoiding Adverse Drug Reactions: What You Can Do

Exercise, eat right and take supplements. You may be able to avoid taking prescription drugs by making some simple lifestyle changes. These tactics have been clinically proven to help prevent the possibility of developing conditions that require pharmaceutical intervention. Many of the top drugs that are likely to cause adverse reactions are prescribed for conditions that can often be successfully addressed with proper lifestyle habits. One common example is high cholesterol.

Additionally, the drugs most associated with adverse reactions leading to death are those used for pain management. Increased physical activity in addition to anti-inflammatory food choices and supplements reduces the risk of certain injuries and pain-related problems.  In addition, being in better physical health allows for quicker recovery time from injury, reducing the need for long-term pain management medications.

#15 on the list of drugs most often implicated in fatal events is Paxil, and #15 on the list of most drugs most commonly associated with disability or serious outcomes is Effexor. Both drugs are anti-depressants. Numerous studies have shown that just exercising just 30 minutes 5 to 6 days a week relieves symptoms of depression than most SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) such as Paxil or Prozac. It also improves cardiovascular health, reduces cholesterol, promotes joint mobility, lowers blood pressure, facilitates , improves cognitive function and reduces the risk of certain cancers.

Educate yourself about the drug you are being prescribed. Research has shown that being more informed about potential side effects of a prescribed medication reduces the risk of having a serious adverse reaction to that medication. Read the literature on any drug you are prescribed and to talk to your pharmacist about potential adverse effects, particularly if you are being prescribed multiple medications.

The Anti-Aging Bottom Line: The numbers of Americans being harmed or killed by the drugs they take is growning at an alarming rate. Avoid becoming part of that scary statistic by taking charge of your own health. Focus on preventing the need for drugs by exercising, eating well and taking supplements. If you are unsure about what supplements to take, a comprehensive multivitamin, fish oil and are a great start. A consultation with a health practicioner skilled in recommending supplements can be a good investment. Drug therapy saves the lives and improves the quality of life of millions of Americans every day. However, we must understand that the current medical model focuses on disease treatment and not disease prevention, which is not a good model for health care.

Dr. Passero completed four years of post-graduate medical education at the National College of Naturopathic Medicine in Portland, Oregon after receiving a Bachelor’s Degree in Environmental Biology from the University of Colorado. Dr. Passero has trained with some of the nation’s leading doctors in the field of natural medicine. In his practice, Dr. Passero focuses on restoring harmony to both the body and mind using advanced protocols that incorporate herbal therapy, homeopathy, vitamin therapy and nutritional programs. Through education and guidance patients are able to unlock the natural healing power contained within each one of us. For more information, visit his website, Green Healing Wellness, or follow him on Facebook.

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Article updated on: February 12th, 2009

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