Medication side effects result in ER visits in 1 in 250 Americans every year. But its even worse for people 65 and older: 1 in 100 show up in the ER each year for drug side effects so severe as to need immediate medical attention.
The top three drugs responsible for ER visits haven’t changed in a decade. Year after year, these categories of drugs drive patients to the ER more frequently: blood thinners, diabetes medications, and antibiotics.
For older people, the top 3 include opioid painkillers, and antibiotics are 4th.
Unlike blood thinners and diabetic meds, which can be lifesaving, antibiotics are very likely to have been unnecessary in the first place. And children are much more at risk of getting a ad side effect from the antibiotic. The number one drug responsible for ER visits in people under 20 years old is antibiotics, followed by prescription antipsychotic drugs.
How can the average health care consumer be protected from adverse drug effects? First and foremost it is necessary to abandon the notion that every sign of distress needs to be answered with a prescription. It is a simple matter of not putting yourself in harms way, which you do every time you pop a pill.
It is essential in this drug age that each person become a smart consumer by understanding the principles of full informed consent. Demand full informed consent from your doctor, who should:
- describe exactly what the drug is and precisely what the drug does (or being informed that the mechanism of action is unknown or only guessed at).
- fully inform you of what is known and not known about potential adverse effects, not the least of which are the FDA-mandated Black Box Warnings and other Special Precautions.
- tell you what is known and not known about the drug’s effectiveness or lack thereof, including whether it is being prescribed experimentally (i.e., “off label”).
- discuss in full the viable alternatives to the drug is a crucial component of informed consent, including information about exercise being as effective for most cases of depression, for example.
- disclose his or her potential conflicts of interest.
Tip for the smart consumer: To find out the kind of things you should be wary of, read the No-Nonsense series by Moira Dolan, MD: