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What "Medical Cocktails" Can Be Deadly?

It seems like there is a pill these days for just about everything -- physical and emotional -- that ails us. People are increasingly taking multiple medications every day. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, over a quarter of people between 20 and 59 have prescriptions for more than one drug.

While we hear a lot about the dangers of some prescription drugs, which result in over 100,000 fatalities annually, not enough people understand the dangers of taking a combination of medications (a "medical cocktail"), including over-the-counter drugs. That's why it's essential to let your doctor know what medications you take and which you take together.

Following are some common combinations of drugs can be dangerous and even lethal:

  • Anti-anxiety medications and opioid-derived painkillers: Both are depressants. Therefore, if taken simultaneously, they can lower heart and breathing rates considerably. If you are taking a painkiller like Vicodin or Percocet, it could be dangerous or even deadly to take Xanax or Valium with it.
  • Antidepressants and painkillers: Antidepressants known as SSRIs can lead to gastrointestinal bleeding when taken with nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. NSAIDS such as Advil are often taken to relieve arthritis pain. Some painkillers, when taken with SSRIs can actually increase breathing and heart rate as well as cause agitation.
  • Acetaminophen and opioids: Acetaminophen is a common OTC medication. However, when taken with an opioid, it can be extremely dangerous. Some medications contain both, such as Tylenol 3 -- which contains the opioid codeine -- can cause liver failure.
  • Anticoagulants and aspirin: Many people are prescribed anticoagulants to help prevent the formation of blood clots. However, aspirin acts as a blood thinner. Therefore, if taken together, you risk internal as well as external bleeding.

People who become dependent on certain prescription drugs will often go to more than one doctor and not provide accurate information about the drugs they're taking with the goal of getting multiple prescriptions. However, those of us who want to take medications responsibly will provide complete and accurate information to our physician(s) about all of the medications we take, including prescription drugs, OTC medicines and supplements.

Responsible, knowledgeable physicians strive to ensure that their patients are not taking potentially unsafe combinations or amounts of drugs. When they do not, however, and a patient is harmed as a result, legal recourse may be an option.

Source: Medical Daily, "Dangerous Drug Cocktails: 5 Medication Combinations That Are Harmful To Your Health," Dana Dovey, accessed Aug. 30, 2015

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