A story out of Idaho last week tells the sad tale of a young woman who was killed by a combination of excessive drinking and both prescription and non-prescription drugs. Because suicide isn’t suspected, it brings up the question of whether or not we are creating a world of available substances too difficult to navigate safely.
Shannon Marlowe spent Sunday night bar hopping. She made it home and her boyfriend reported he left her sleeping that night. The next morning she was dead. The police determined she was killed by a combination of alcohol and legal drugs.
In her age group, prescription drugs are considered much safer than street drugs and by comparison, slide into the completely safe category. Of course this isn’t so. But our culture seems to be pushing a model of drugs as specific tools to accomplish clear ends. The commercials are rampant. Have condition X? Take drug Y. Even though prescription drug manufacturers are required to list major side effects in their ads, this information blazes by and doesn’t seem to “stick” as well as the message of drugs being simple answers to concise problems.
Everyone knows what Viagra is for. They might even know the silly sounding warning about erections lasting more than four hours. It is much less likely that someone will be aware of all the interactions with heart medications or other side effects from the drug. Certainly, our physicians and pharmacist know about these dangers – the problem is that when medications are multiplied the complexity goes up.
The situation is made worse when someone saves medications from previous illnesses, combines medications with other legal substances (like alcohol) or when they save money by playing doctor on their own. The rationale goes like something like this: I am having similar symptoms; I should take a drug that was prescribed the last time I had these symptoms, without any doctor visit or testing to find out if a fever is from a urinary tract infection or the flu. “Have a pill, take a pill,” seems to be the rule.
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The FDA is quite careful when they approve a drug for over the counter sale. They hold to the “safe and effective” rule, but cannot predict what any one patient will take in combination with these otherwise safe medications. Our young people are faced with experimenting on themselves. This wouldn’t be so bad except for the myth that prescription products are generally OK to take.
Advertising that paints only the wonderful benefits of drug X does us a disservice and only makes the world more dangerous.