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Fatal Medication Errors
Posted by Dr. Ben Kim on Sep 19, 2011
Dr. David Phillips, professor of sociology at the University of California in San Diego published a study in 2008 that highlighted an alarming trend: From 1983 to 2004, while deaths caused by firearms, fires, drownings, and traffic accidents decreased, the rate of deaths from prescription and over-the-counter drugs increased at a rapid clip.
In fact, Dr. Phillips noted that by 2004, "fatal medication errors" accounted for far more years of lost potential life than all accidents from firearms, fires, drownings, and non-medication poisonings combined.
Back when I operated a residential fasting clinic, it wasn't unusual to find that a patient was on several prescription drugs, sometimes without a clue about potential negative interactions. Here are a couple of examples that I randomly pulled from my files:
64 Year Old Caucasian Male
Lipitor - for high cholesterol
Diovan/HCT - for hypertension
Xanax XR - for anxiety and panic attacks
Lexapro - for depression
Flomax - for weak urine flow
Proscar - for high PSA
Valium - to help with sleep and anxiety
Aspirin - for cardiovascular support
Ambien - for insomnia
Dexadrine - for ADHD
57 Year Old Caucasian Female
Effexor - for depression
Hydralazine - for hypertension
Zaroxylyn - for hypertension
Imovane - for insomnia
Seroquel - for bipolar disorder
These two patients were from the United States and Canada, respectively, which reflects my observation that generally, the medical professions in both countries seem to share the same basic apathy toward potentially dangerous drug interactions (most of the patients that visited my residential fasting clinic were from the States and countries overseas, while most of my outpatient clients are from Ontario).
It's never easy trying to sort through the drug cocktails that people have been put on over the years. And even in researching potentially harmful interactions, most of the time, I feel that these efforts are in vain. Why? Because textbooks can tell us that drug "A" only affects one pathway in the central nervous system, while drug "B" works its magic on an entirely separate pathway, but conventional medical practice seems to ignore big picture issues, like how much of any combination of prescription meds, over-the-counter drugs, and recreational drugs like alcohol is enough to cause significant damage to the stomach lining and liver, two areas that are forced to process most of everything we put into our bodies.
Really, can anyone out there tell us how much of various combinations of toxic substances is too much? I think it's pretty clear that the answer is no, at least not to any degree of accuracy, as who can take into account all possible combinations plus individual dispositions and varying health circumstances? Significant emotional stress alone is going to make someone's stomach lining more susceptible to becoming damaged by regular doses of extra strength ibuprofen than for the next person who isn't as stressed. How does anyone measure this and other risk factors?
Of grave concern is how easily any of us can experience fatal respiratory distress from taking a combination of alcohol and oxycodone (found in brand names OxyContin and Percocet to name just two). In fact, most combinations of alcohol and opioids can fatally suppress central nervous system activity. The same goes for various combinations of anti-anxiety medications plus opioids. Ditto for opioids and most prescription meds that are intended to induce sleep.
Two more dangerous combinations that are commonly used: Regular intake of acetaminophen and alcohol (increases risk of liver damage) and non-steroidal anti-inflammatories plus alcohol (increases risk of bleeding from the stomach). Given the number of drugs on the market (prescription, over-the-counter, and recreational), the list of risky combinations is truly endless.
Sadly, the profit motive is a root cause of the alarming increase in deaths due to fatal medication errors. I think it's safe to say that some pain clinics and physicians hand out prescriptions for highly addictive pain killing drugs without properly assessing the need for such meds. I think it's also safe to assume that some professionals are neglectful in educating their patients on proper use of said drugs, potential interactions, and what to do to address root causes of pain to try to get to a point where one can wean off addictive pain killers.
The reality is that for some medical professionals, handing out prescriptions has largely become a non-thinking, routine act that's repeated a hundred or more times per working shift to generate income. Education and financial incentive are generously supplied by the pharmaceutical industry (please see: A Sick Health Care System).
And even for those physicians who practice with their consciences fully turned on, the system itself makes it exceedingly difficult not to contribute to deaths due to medication errors. A physician friend of mine once lamented the number of patients on disability who he had to write prescriptions for every few months to keep them supplied with powerful pain killers; some of these people - quite happy to remain "disabled" and live off social welfare - routinely sell a portion of their supplies illegally, often for crazy profits, to allow them to meet their everyday expenses.
The bottom line is this: Today, it's shockingly easy to accidentally die from medication error. How natural is it for a person who is in pain and who's possibly a little depressed to find themselves taking an extra tablet of OxyContin with a few glasses of alcohol one night?
We have to remember that prescription drugs can and do kill. We need to have great respect for the physiological effects that tiny tablets can have within our bodies. Most importantly, we can take hope in knowing that if we consistently make healthy choices in what we think, what we eat, how we use our bodies, how much rest we get, and just how we go about our lives in general, we can reduce potential need for medication.
And in cases where we find ourselves using a conventional medical drug, let's remember that whenever possible, the goal should be to live in a way that maximizes our chances of no longer needing said medicine.
If you have any thoughts or comments on this topic, please feel free to share via the comments section below. And please consider sharing this information with family and friends who don't know how easy it can be to experience fatal medication error.
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