Why are some prescription drugs considered unsafe?
Even though prescription medications are regulated by the FDA, many carry serious side effects that can be dangerous to some patients. These can include everything from muscle aches to heart problems, which may even lead to death. Each year, about 4.5 million Americans visit the emergency room because of side effects from their medications.
For prescriptions that carry the risk of a number of problems, the FDA requires drugmakers to put a warning label on the bottle. Some prescriptions are also considered more unsafe because of the risk that patients may become addicted, such as with opioid pain medications.
You should always talk to your pharmacist before taking a new drug to understand how it may affect you and what side effects to look out for.
Do all medications have side effects?
Most medical professionals and scientists agree that all medications have the potential to cause side effects for some users. Even over-the-counter drugs, commonly thought of as safe, can pose risks to patients who don’t read the label and take too many doses. Therefore, it is extremely important to follow the instructions for use for all medications, whether they are prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, or dietary supplements.
That said, some prescription drugs have side effects so severe, that the risk of taking them can far outweigh the benefit they might otherwise provide. In these cases, pharmaceutical companies are required by law to provide clear, understandable labels that highlight the potential side effects in language that patients can understand. Some of these side effects are so severe, that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires them to carry black box warnings to ensure that consumers understand the risks.
What should I do if I experience a side effect from a drug?
If you or a loved one suffers from a severe drug side effect, such as an allergic reaction or other life-threatening reaction, the first thing you should do is seek medical help right away. If you cannot reach your primary care physician, call 911 or seek other emergency care.
For other side effects and drug interactions, it is still important to contact your doctor before discontinuing your use of the drug. You should never stop taking a prescription without first consulting your doctor, because many medications can cause serious side effects when stopped abruptly. Your doctor may need to develop a withdrawal plan that will help you discontinue use of the drug with minimal effects.
If you experience a side effect from a drug, whether it’s a prescription or over-the-counter medication, you may want to consider filing a voluntary report with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). You can do so using the Consumer MedWatch Voluntary Report on the FDA’s website.
Finally, if your our your loved one’s medication caused any severe side effects, you may want to consider your legal options. You could be eligible for compensation to pay for additional treatments, pain and suffering, and other expenses related to your problems. See our Legal section to learn more about what drugs have been most problematic.