By Claudia Kalb | NEWSWEEK
It was to have been Jerry and Mary Sagen’s first New Year’s Eve together as a married couple. But on that morning in 1996, says Jerry Sagen, “I awoke to hear her dying.” As Mary gasped her last breaths, Jerry dialed 911 and frantically blew air into her lungs, but it was too late. At first the death of the healthy 45-year-old woman was a mystery.
But 1st month an answer was stamped onto Mary’s death certificate: accidental death due to a toxic level of the antihistamine Hismanal. (While not commenting on the case, Janssen Pharmaceutical, the maker of Hismanal, said it is difficult to confirm a drug as the ultimate cause of death and stressed that “it’s been taken safely by a huge number of people.”) For Jerry Sagen, 53, it was unfathomable. “You’re numb,” he says; “you can’t believe it happened.”
For millions of Americans, prescription drugs are a way of life – about 2 billion are dispensed each year. We rely on them for everything from allergies to diabetes to depression. But in a study published last week in The Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers found that adverse reactions to prescription drugs may rank somewhere between the fourth and sixth leading cause of death in the United States. Dr. Bruce Pomeranz, a professor at the University of Toronto, and his team analyzed 39 studies conducted in American hospitals over four decades (the study was funded by a scientific-research group). Of 33 million patients admitted to hospitals in 1994, more than 100,000 died from toxic reactions to medications that were administered properly, either before or after they were hospitalized. And more than 2 million suffered serious side effects.
Drugs by nature are powerful substances, and individual responses are unpredictable. While the study didn’t look at specific drugs, it has been documented that antihistamines, in combination with the wrong antibiotic, can lead to abnormal heart rhythms; in rare instances the result can be fatal. (Mary Sagen was taking an antibiotic with the Hismanal, though that combination has not been linked to her death). Mixing drugs isn’t the only problem. Blood thinners alone, for example, can cause fatal internal hemorrhaging. “We have to realize drugs are not magic bullets,” says Pomeranz. “They don’t just hit the tissue we want them to hit, they hit all the other tissues as well.”
He and others say the Food and Drug Administration must work harder to address the problem. Though the FDA has been lauded for a much-needed increase in the number of new drugs it approves each year (a record 46 in 1996), critics say it hasn’t done enough to monitor medications once they’re on the market. The FDA requests reports on adverse drug reactions from hospitals and physicians, but few participate in this voluntary program. Information that might warn of – or perhaps even ward off – side effects is buried in doctors’ offices and hospital wards. “It’s the best FDA system in the world, but it’s not enough,” says Pomeranz. “We need more post-market surveillance.”
The FDA says it hopes to soon launch a computerized system that will make it easier to report adverse drug reactions. Monitoring medications is “terribly important,” says Michael Friedman, the FDA’s acting commissioner. “We want to give more attention to this.” But surveillance isn’t the FDA’s dominion alone. “I see problems at every link of the safety chain,” says Thomas Moore, a senior fellow at the George Washington University Medical Center and author of “Prescription for Disaster.” He says physicians need to be much more cautious about the drugs – and drug combinations – they prescribe. And patients need to become wiser consumers. While the Pomeranz study didn’t deal with patients who misread or disregard warning labels – taking an incorrect dosage, for example – that is a serious cause of adverse reactions.
Some experts raised concerns about last week’s study, noting that the hospitals surveyed were all teaching hospitals, where patients are sickest and receive the most drugs. And while 100,000 deaths is 100,000 too many, those represent just .32 percent of hospitalized patients. “When you realize how many drugs we use,” said Dr. Lucian Leape of the Harvard School of Public Health, “maybe those numbers aren’t so bad after all.” Pomeranz isn’t warning people to stay away from drugs. “That would be a terrible message,” he says. “But we should increase our vigilance.” That’s a prescription everybody can live with.
SOURCE: Reprinted from the 27 April, 1998, issue of Newsweek magazine. Excerpted in the public service of the national interest of the American people.
How safe are prescription drugs?
In 1998 an extensive study published in the reputable Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) showed that 106,000 people die each year in American hospitals from medication side effects (4).
Let’s look at this statistic a different way: 106,000 deaths a year averages out to nearly 300 deaths per day, every day. Deaths from all major airline crashes in the U.S. average less than 300 annually, but 1 airplane crash gets more media attention and governmental scrutiny than the 300 medication-related deaths which occurred not only on the same day as the airline crash, but also every day before and after for decades.
Why has this epidemic of side effects gone unrecognized? Deaths from medication reactions rarely look any different from natural deaths. There’s no visible wreckage to videotape, no crash sites to fascinate and horrify TV viewers. As media people say, ‘No film, no story’. Media and public relations firms, and how they shape the public’s awareness, are discussed in more detail here.
Medication deaths often occur quietly in hospitals, emergency rooms and private homes. When medication-related deaths occur, it’s often unclear at first whether the cause was the medication, the illness, or some other factor. In other words, to much of the media, there is nothing sexy about side effects.
The reported adverse effects of drugs are only the tip of the iceberg. Consider ‘Digoxin’, the best-selling heart drug. According to an article in JAMA, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) receives about 82 reports each year involving Digoxin, yet a systematic study of Medicare records reveals 202,211 hospitalizations for Digoxin adverse effects in a 7-year period (5). That’s more than 28,000 reactions per year, 82 of which the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) hears about.
Prescription Drugs Can Be Deadly
Celebrity prescription drug abuse is on the rise. When mixed with booze, prescription drugs are deadly. Singer Whitney Houston was found dead in her bathtub on February 11, 2012 in Hollywood, California. She was only 48 years old. She had been out wild partying with her 18-year-old daughter the night before her death. Alcohol by very definition is a narcotic drug. The biggest hypocrisy of our time is to teach young people to ‘say no to drugs,’ while parents drink case-after-case of booze (which is as much a drug as cocaine or heroine). It appears that alcohol combined with sleeping pills led to Houston’s death. it is very dangerous to combine prescription medications with alcohol, especially while resting in a full bathtub. Once the medications knock you out, that’s it for at least 8 to 12 hours!
I take prescription drugs for pain, peripheral neuropathy and to sleep. I’ve taken so many drugs over the years: Ambien, Soma, Flexeril, Ativan, Valium, Methadone, Gabapentin, Lyrica, Vicodin, Percodan, Percocet, Oxycontin, Skelaxin, Robaxin, Zanex, Elavil, Klonopin, Morphine Sulfate, Dilaudid, Fentanyl Patch, Ibuprofen, Endocet, Norco, Roxicet, Zoloft, Zantec, Roserem and a bunch more that I cannot remember. I’m not kidding, I’ve been prescribed all of these drugs over the past 8-years. So I know what I’m talking about. Thankfully I’ve never drank alcohol, but NyQuil can be almost as dangerous when combined with pills. So be careful.
Taking a handful of prescription drugs at the same time can be deadly. People get used to taking a certain amount and it’s very easy to increase that amount incrementally until your mind tricks you into taking a lethal amount. I’ve come close. I’ve suffered many horrible side-effects and eventually stopped taking most of of my prescription medications (or they didn’t work). As of February 2012 I take 160 mg. daily of Oxycontin for pain, 300 mg. of Lyrica for my Peripheral Neuropathy, and 10 mg. of Ambien to sleep at night. I don’t like taking any drugs, but I am a basket-case of pain, burning, tingling throughout my body without them. Thank God for medications!
Every year, over 100,000 Americans die from prescription drugs (not from taking too much drugs, but from the medications themselves). It’s a bad situation to be in, but if you’ve ever suffered from a physical ailment, then you understand the need for medication. I have been afflicted since march of 2004 with horrible toothache-like pain in back of my neck. It is debilitating. I have chronic tightness and tension in the same area, but it’s the nerve and not the muscles (as evidenced by an EEG needle test).
Nearly every prescription drug comes with a warning about consuming alcohol with it. I’ve noticed that it’s usually a COMBINATION of prescription drugs that kill people (often mixed with alcohol or illegal drugs). Numerous celebrities have died from combining prescription drugs. In Whitney Houston’s situation, she lived a lifestyle of boozing and illegal drugs which likely contributed to her untimely death. She had been out heavily-boozing the night before her death.
Famous Actor Heath Ledger died from a prescription overdose in February of 2008. What the mainstream newsmedia didn’t tell anyone is that Ledger wasn’t prescribed the drugs that killed him. Mary-Kate Olsen knows, but she won’t talk to federal investigators without being given legal immunity. What good is an investigation if the one person who knows what happened wants immunity? If convicted of giving the Oxycontin to Ledger, Olsen could face life in prison. I don’t blame her for refusing to talk. Federal penalties are just as harsh for prescription drug-trafficking as they are for illegal drugs.
There is much debate over whether illegal drugs should be made legal. Argue as you may, in places like Amsterdam, Holland (where drugs are legal) there are less instances of drug abuse and drug-related deaths. My opinion is that drugs never should have been outlawed because it’s not the government’s business to tell us what we can put into our mouths. I think trafficking drugs should be illegal as a business, but I think if people want to grow marijuana or opium and ingest it, that’s their own business. The government needs to step in when criminals try to profit from the sale of drugs that are harmful to society; but in today’s reality the CIA, ATF and FBI are the criminals who traffic the drugs into America.
America is a cesspool of iniquity,. The Bible promises that every secret thing will one day be revealed in eternity on Judgment Day. Luke 8:17, “For nothing is secret, that shall not be made manifest; neither any thing hid, that shall not be known and come abroad.” Ecclesiastes 12:14, “For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil.” One day we’re all going to find out who’s who. There are some very evil people in today’s world, people who will do anything for money and the Devil. God knows those who are His, who belong to Christ, who one day we will shine as the brightness of the stars for turning many to the righteousness of Jesus Christ to be saved (Daniel 12:2-3; Romans 4:5-6; Matthew 6:33; 2nd Corinthians 5:21). END
“When we give government the power to make medical decisions for us,
we, in essence, accept that the state owns our bodies.”
~U.S. Representative Ron Paul, MD