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It is common to discover the dangers of prescription drugs after they have been marketed to the medical community and public. A statistical study of hospital deaths in the U.S.

Studies have shown that mistakes in drug prescribing and side effects from prescription drugs cost at least $76 billion a year (and could be as high as $136 billion, according to other estimates) in extra medical costs. The largest factor contributing to the additional cost is adverse drug reactions requiring hospitalization.These mistakes may also double the risk of death.

Adverse drug reactions are now the fourth leading cause of death in the United States after heart disease, cancer, and stroke. Generally, 51% of FDA-approved drugs have serious adverse effects not detected prior to approval. According to the report in the Archives of Internal Medicine, twenty percent of drugs account for 87% of adverse effects, and the biggest offenders are painkillers and drugs that modify the immune system to treat arthritis. Each year prescription drugs injure 1.5 million people so severely they require hospitalization. In addition, prescription drugs cause 100,000 deaths annually.

Older men use risky drug combinations

Reports of adverse drug effects reported to the U.S. FDA more than doubled in the last decade. While people 65 and older account for 12.6% of the total U.S. population, they account for 33.6% of the reported adverse drug effects. Children under age 18 account for 7.4% of the serious adverse effects, although they make up 25.8% of the population.

Results of a new study put forth that at least 2 million older Americans are taking a combination of drugs or supplements that can be a risky mix - from blood thinners and cholesterol pills to Aspirin and ginkgo capsules. The number of older men is particularly alarming as 1 in 10 is taking these harmful combinations.

It is imperative to note that just because lots of medicines and supplements don't require prescriptions doesn't mean they're harmless. Nor are some of these safe to take when you're prescribed other medications. The results aren't always disastrous, but older people are more prone to side effects and drug-to-drug interactions.

This study put forth some commonly used and risky combinations including:
  • Warfarin taken with Aspirin, increases the risk of bleeding
  • Aspirin taken with over-the-counter ginkgo supplements, increasing chances for excess bleeding
  • Lisinopril, a blood pressure drug, taken with potassium, which combined can cause abnormal heart rhythms.
  •  Potassium is often prescribed to restore low levels of this important mineral caused by certain blood pressure drugs.
  • Prescription cholesterol drugs called statins taken with over-the-counter niacin, a type of vitamin B that also lowers cholesterol. This combination increases risks for muscle damage.

Side-effects of prescription drugs

The prescription drugs may not always cure a disease. These drugs may mask or remove the symptoms of disease by disrupting normal cellular functions. Drugs may in fact cause diseases in the form of side effects. Ironically, the side effects are often more dangerous than the disease being treated in the first place. An article published in JAMA estimated that only 1 in 20 reactions are reported. In fact, anyone taking a prescription drug will be harmed to some degree by these drug-caused diseases. As too many adverse reactions cause public concern and scrutiny, so hospitals tend to understate them.

A single prescription drug can disrupt multiple cell functions causing thousands of biochemical changes. Introducing a second drug can cause tens of thousands of changes, and a third can produce hundreds of thousands. Since the average patient over 60 is on four drugs, you can understand the extent of the biochemical chaos being created. Very often a second drug is prescribed to suppress the problems caused by the first, and then a third drug to suppress the symptoms caused by the first two, and so on.

Statistics show that prescriptions for antibiotics are still on the rise, despite medical journals warning doctors to cut down on them. Excessive antibiotic use has bred superbugs that the strongest antibiotics cannot kill. Presently, there are people sick with infections that are immune to all known antibiotics. Another common side effect of antibiotics is that they also destroy normal gut flora, leading to maldigestion, malnutrition, and cellular toxicity. Thus, antibiotics can do scary and often permanent damages, and these damages keep getting worse as doctors continue to overprescribe them.

The drug list

On the list of drugs most commonly identified in fatal events:

  • Oxycodone (OxyContin and others)
  • Fentanyl (Duragesic and others)
  • Clozapine (Clozaril)
  • Morphine
  • Acetaminophen (Tylenol)
  • Methadone
  • Infliximab (Remicade)
  • Interferon beta (Rebif, Betaseron, Avonex)
  • Risperidone (Risperdal)
  • Etanercept (Enbrel)
  • Paclitaxel (Taxol)
  • Acetaminophen-hydrocodone (Vicodin, Lortab, and others)
  • Olanzapine (Zyprexa)
  • Rofecoxib (Vioxx)*
  • Paroxetine (Paxil)

Drugs on the list of those most commonly identified in disability or serious outcomes:

  • Estrogens
  • Insulin
  • Infliximab (Remicade)
  • Interferon beta (Rebif, Betaseron, Avonex)
  • Paroxetine (Paxil)
  • Rofecoxib (Vioxx)*
  • Warfarin (Coumadin)
  • Atorvastatin (Lipitor)
  • Etanercept (Enbrel)
  • Celecoxib (Celebrex)
  • Phentermine (Pro-Fast)
  • Clozapine (Clozaril)
  • Interferon alfa (Alferon N, Infergen, Intron A, Roferon-A)
  • Simvastatin (Zocor)
  • Venlafaxine (Effexor)
* This drug is no longer available in the U.S.

The drugs with associated serious outcomes should be prescribed only when other options have failed, be avoided by people whose medical conditions make them especially vulnerable to harmful reactions, and used only with careful monitoring for adverse reactions.

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