March 26, 2007
Monday morning, it was big news:
"Anna Nicole Smith died of an accidental drug overdose with
traces of nine prescription drugs in her blood, including
anti-depressants and sedatives, Florida officials said
Monday [March 26, 2007]. ... There was no evidence of
illegal drugs in her body, said Broward County Medical
Examiner Joshua Perper..."
While many in the United States (and others around the
world) paid attention to the headline because it contained
the name "Anna Nicole Smith," there is more to the story.
"Mixing medications can be dangerous -- even deadly ... A
report this month by the Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention found that deaths from accidental drug
interactions rose 68 percent between 1999 and 2004,
continuing a steady climb since the early 1990s.
Unintentional drug poisonings accounted for nearly 20,000
deaths in 2004, said the CDC, making the problem now the
second-leading cause of accidental death in the United
States, after automobile accidents."
Anna Nicole Smith had "traces of nine prescription drugs in
her blood." As people age, or struggle with various health
problems for which there are more and more medications, the
chances of a dangerous combination increases.
It doesn't take nine medications to cause a problem. People
can have adverse reactions (side effects and/ or allergic
reactions) to even one medication. When combining two
medications, a patient needs to be even more careful, as
one can affect how the other interacts with the body. With
each new medication that is added, the potential for a
negative interaction increases.
"Keeping track of your medicines is very important. Making
sure that they are stored properly, that they have not
expired when you take them, and that prescriptions are
refilled requires time and attention. Also, taking many
different medications at the same time is difficult. It can
be hard to remember what each drug is for, when you should
take it, and how you should take it. This is especially
true for people with memory problems. However, there are
simple strategies you can use to help you manage your
medicines wisely. Keep a checklist of all the prescription
and over-the-counter medications you take. For each
medicine, mark the amount you take, the time of day you
take it, and whether it should be taken with food. ...
Review your medicine record at every visit to the doctor
and whenever your doctor prescribes new medicine. Your
doctor may have new information about your medicines that
might be important to you. Whenever possible, have your
health care provider write down advice and instructions for
taking the medication."
National Institutes of Health
Whether you are helping a family member keep track of their
medications, or taking medications for a health issue of
your own, it is important to know what each medicine is,
what it does, and how it might potentially interact with
any other medications.
Even if you only have one prescription, there is still the
possibility of a negative interaction.
"Talk to your doctor or pharmacist about the drugs you
take. When your doctor prescribes a new drug, discuss all
OTC [Over the Counter] and prescription drugs, dietary
supplements, vitamins, botanicals, minerals and herbals you
take, as well as the foods you eat. Ask your pharmacist for
the package insert for each prescription drug you take. The
package insert provides more information about potential
drug interactions. Before taking a drug, ask your doctor or
pharmacist the following questions:
- Can I take it with other drugs?
- Should I avoid certain foods, beverages or other
- What are possible drug interaction signs I should know
- How will the drug work in my body?
- Is there more information available about the drug or my
condition (on the Internet or in health and medical
It is generally a good idea to fill all of your
prescriptions at one pharmacy. Even if you are just buying
an OTC cold medication, it is always a good idea to check
with a pharmacist about possible adverse drug interactions
that might occur. Also keep in mind that it is not just
what you take, but how you take it...
"Tips on Reducing the Risk of Adverse Drug Effects:
- Read the drug label carefully.
- Make sure you know what ingredients the product contains
and understand any warnings or possible adverse effects.
- Don't stir medicine into your food or take capsules apart
(unless your doctor tells you to). This may change the way
the drug works.
- Don't take vitamin pills at the same time you take
medicine. Vitamins and minerals can cause problems if taken
with some drugs.
- Don't mix medicine into hot drinks unless the label tells
you to. The heat may keep the drug from working as it
- Don't take medicine with alcoholic drinks."
Questions of the Week:
What do you and your peers need to know about the
possibilities of adverse drug interactions, even if you are
not currently taking any prescription medications? What do
others in your family need to know? What questions do you
need to have answered before starting any new medication
(OTC or prescription). What information do you need to
share with your doctor and/ or pharmacist in order for them
to help you reduce your chances of suffering a possible
adverse drug interaction? How can you help your family
members and/ or peers understand how important it is to
check with a medical professional before mixing any OTC or
Please email me with any ideas or suggestions. Due to increasing amounts of SPAM sent to this account, please include "QOW" in the subject line when sending me email.
I look forward to reading
what you have to say.
Health Community Coordinator
Access Excellence @ the National Health Museum