It will be weeks before we learn more details about what may have led to the death of singer Whitney Houston. But it seems there were some prescription medications close at hand and another drug -- alcohol.
Did this play a role? We don’t know yet. But we do know powerful drugs have led to the deaths of other celebrities including Michael Jackson, Brittany Murphy, Heath Ledger and Anna Nicole Smith. Sometimes the celebrity death is accidental. Sometimes their serious abuse of prescription medicines is a tragedy waiting to happen.
Are there lessons for those of us who are not rich and famous? The answer is absolutely yes. Safety with prescription medicines starts with us.
Consider this: More Americans now die from drug overdoses than in car accidents, according to a government report released in December 2011.
It’s just as important to be informed and empowered about the medicine you take as it is to be informed about other aspects of your health. Drug overdoses, lethal drug combinations and medical mistakes kill people each year. Patients are sometimes given the wrong medicine in the hospital or given the wrong dose.
The same thing can happen at home. The local pharmacist made a mistake, or you took too much of the green pill or switched it by mistake with the blue one. Or you didn’t look at the warning that you had to take the drug with food, or stay out of the sun, or avoid alcohol.
It’s imperative you keep some reminders top of mind: Prescription medicines are powerful. What the dosage is for you matters. What else you are taking matters.
Doctors, nurses and pharmacists make mistakes. Ask lots of questions when taking a new medicine. And, by all means, tell them what else you are taking or about any allergies you have or drug reactions you’ve had before.
Pills are easy to take and we’d like to believe we can just pop one or more in our mouths, almost like candy, and go on with our lives and feel better or get well. But it’s not so simple and the price we pay when we don’t think medicine safety first can be huge.
For the sake of your health, good communication with your doctors, nurses, and pharmacists and some caution on your part, can help prevent problems before they occur.
About the author: Andrew Schorr is a medical journalist, cancer survivor and founder of Patient Power, a one-of-a-kind company bringing in-depth information to patients with cancer and chronic illness. Audio and video programs, plus transcripts, help patients make informed decisions to support their health in partnership with their medical team.
Patient Power is at www.PatientPower.info and on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter. Schorr is also the author of “The Web Savvy Patient: An Insider's Guide to Navigating the Internet When Facing Medical Crisis" found at www.websavvypatient.com/
US Food and Drug Administration, Strategies to Reduce Medication Errors: Working to Improve Medication Safety, Accessed online, 2/20/12 at http://www.fda.gov/Drugs/ResourcesForYou/Consumers/ucm143553.htm#errors
Medline Plus, Drug Overdoses Kill More Americans Than Car Accidents: CDC. Published 12/20/11 at http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/news/fullstory_119917.html
Reviewed February 20, 2012
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith