Drug Dependency - A Slippery Slope

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Drug Dependency - A Slippery Slope

April 11th 2006 - I received the following e-mail message recently:
"My mother has been taking (Prescription Drug) now for 2.5 months. To date, she has had the shakes so bad, upset stomach and diarrhea. During the first two months she has had horrible gas and has never had that before.

Could the (Prescription Drug) be causing all of this discomfort? She is 87 years of age. Is there anything that she can take to counteract the upset stomach and diarrhea?"

The prescription drug is almost certainly causing the symptoms that are lowering the 87 year-old lady's quality of life. That is not the point I would like you to appreciate, however. Read the last sentence once more:
"Is there anything that she can take to counteract the upset stomach and diarrhea?"
The possibilty of discontinuing the drug, and thus restoring The pre-drug quality of life isn't considered. The question is, "What else can my mother take to counteract the side effects of the drug?"

This is why I routinely see people who are on multiple medications. One drug is prescribed to address an existing diagnosis. When the inevitable side effects appear, a second drug is added to address them.

The second drug brings its own adverse-effect profile that must be addressed, often by a third drug. Each drug's risks are now compounded by its interaction with the others. Soon the hapless individual is dutifully taking an ever-expanding list of medications, while assuming that each new symptom is caused either by the underlying disease or the aging process. The fact that life without the drugs may be superior in both quality and quantity is never considered.

If you have been on a drug for longer than two weeks, the underlying cause of your illness has not been identified and addressed. If you are taking more than three drugs simultaneously you are almost certainly taking some of the drugs solely to counteract the adverse effects of one or more of the others.

If you are taking a prescription or over-the-counter drug take a few minutes and familiarize yourself with its potential side effects. Some of the available resources for identifying drug risks and side effects are www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/druginformation.html, www.drugs.com, and www.rxlist.com.

Most side-effects will be said to be "rare", but that doesn't mean they don't occur. If you are the one-in-a-million user who has an unpleasant or dangerous reaction, the overall incidence is irrelevant. In your case the frequency is 100 %.

Don't go down the slippery slope of drug dependency, adding new drugs to combat the undesireable effects of others. Even if the symptom(s) you are noting aren't listed in the literature, stopping the drug for a time may be the best option. Adverse drug effects are often first recognized years after the product has reached the marketplace.

Dale H. Peterson, M.D.