What you don’t know about your prescriptions could kill you

Almost every prescription drug on the market today comes with a warning label of some kind. It could be as simple as “take this medication with 8 ounces of water” or “do not operate heavy machinery” while taking this drug. Or it could indicate what time of day is best for optimum results. Do you read these warnings? Do you adhere to the instructions?

Yes, those instructions and warnings may be simple to understand. But what if your drug were likely to cause heart attack, stroke, muscle pain, permanent memory loss, blood sugar imbalance, serious allergic reaction or bone loss? Would that catch your attention?

You may have seen what appears to be a larger and more serious warning, outlined in black with stern language. These particular labels are known as “black box warnings” and are issued by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. These warnings let the consumer know about the dangers and side effects. Right now, there are more than 430 black box warnings out there.

Drug manufacturers desperately want looser guidelines when it comes to these warnings. They would rather the public not be aware of the side effects; because if the majority of the public were more aware, then it could hurt their bottom line. And sadly, making money is more important to many drug companies than saving lives.

Plus, many drug manufacturers don’t want doctors to know the risks either. Research published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine revealed that doctors weren’t informed of certain warnings or risks when the sales representative promoted a new drug. However, those doctors admitted they still went on to prescribe the drugs anyway.

“Laws in all three countries require sales representatives to provide information on harm as well as benefits,” said lead study author Barbara Mintzes of the University of British Columbia. “But no one is monitoring these visits and there are next to no sanctions for misleading or inaccurate promotion.”

The research found that 57 percent of the medications mentioned during the sales promotions were drugs with black box warnings. But it seems that the sales representatives just promoted the benefits and didn’t outline the harm. And when your doctor isn’t informed, that means he doesn’t have the information to inform you, the patient.

“We are very concerned that doctors and patients are left in the dark and patient safety may be compromised,” Mintzes added.

Research reveals that for Americans age 65 or older, 5 out of 6 people take at least one of these dangerous black box prescriptions. And nearly half of people take at least three prescriptions or more.

Common drugs with black box warnings

  • Avandia: Prescribed to treat diabetes.
  • Paxil and Zoloft: Prescribed to treat depression.
  • Coumadin: Prescribed as a blood thinner.
  • Lipitor and Crestor: Prescribed to treat high cholesterol.
  • Flomax: Prescribed to treat enlarged prostate.
  • Celebrex: Prescribed to treat arthritis.

If you or your family is worried about any prescriptions you currently take, check with your medical professional to see if there are natural alternatives or different medications that may achieve similar results without risking your health. You can also inquire with your pharmacist about alternatives or more information about the warnings.


Peyton Kennedy

By Peyton Kennedy

Peyton Kennedy graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism and Mass Communications from Auburn University. Her varied experience includes journalism, marketing, public relations and social media. She currently lives in Birmingham, Ala., with her husband Tom and dog Mosby. In her spare time, Kennedy enjoys movies, reading and Auburn football.