What am I taking and what does it do?
Online resources for evaluating your meds
December 1, 2018
You sit in the exam room waiting for the doctor. She enters, smiling, trying to put you at ease. She explains that your medical condition can be stabilized with a prescription drug she is going to give you. Maybe she said it was called “Overpricium,” or possibly “Bilgestuffex.” You were not really sure since you were stressed out, and all those prescription drugs are nonsense words anyway.
You pop over to your friendly pharmacist to pick up your new prescription. You take home the cute little white paper bag containing the prescription and the paperwork. You decide to actually read the accompanying “consumer information literature.” Yikes!
The first obstacle is the tiny print. How much money does it save to provide consumer information in 5-point type readable only by teenagers with youthful eyesight or seniors with oversize magnifying glasses? Second obstacle—what the heck does it mean? The litany of possible side effects is scary, incomprehensible and overwhelming. Why would the doctor prescribe this dangerous stuff?
Ultimately you may want to take your concerns to your health care provider and/or the pharmacist, but the more you know before then, the better off you will be. In that regard, I have a couple of recommendations you may find useful.
The first is the Mayo Clinic website at https://mayoclinic.org/. I recommend this website primarily for two reasons – credibility and readability – and there is no charge to access all information on the site. Mayo Clinic is a nonprofit organization “committed to clinical practice, education and research, providing expert, whole-person care to everyone who needs healing.”
Mayo Clinic is recognized for high-quality patient care more often than any other academic medical center in the nation. For example, U.S. News & World Report ranked Mayo Clinic’s campus in Rochester, Minn., the best hospital in the nation in its 2018-2019 rankings.
There is a vast amount of useful and interesting health information on the Mayo Clinic website, but I would like to note in particular the “Patient Care and Health Info,” tab on top of the home page. Here you can find easy-to-understand sections on “Healthy Lifestyle,” “Diseases and Conditions,” “Tests and Procedures,” and the focus of our current interest, “Drugs and Supplements.”
Easily search for any prescription or non-prescription drug or supplement by generic and/or brand name. Once you have found the drug or supplement you are interested in, the information is typically divided up into five sections:
Description and brand names: Overview of the medical conditions the drug is used for, and some of the brand names and generic names under which the drug is marketed.
Before using: Detailed discussion of the risks of taking this drug versus the benefits it will provide.
Proper use: Dosing, drug storage, overdose and related issues.
Precautions: How to monitor your reactions to the drug and when to contact your health care provider if necessary.
Side effects: Detailed discussion of common and rare side effects, and what if anything you should do about them.
Information is generally presented in an understandable way for a non-technical audience. And here’s good news -- no more magnifying glass. Make the website font as big as you need.
The second website I would like to bring to your attention is “Worst Pills, Best Pills,” which you can find at https://www.worstpills.org/. The website describes itself as “An expert, independent second opinion on more than 1,800 prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications and supplements.”
Worst Pills, Best Pills is a project of Public Citizen’s Health Research Group, a Ralph Nader spinoff. It is an independent, nonprofit organization that takes no corporate or government contributions and accepts no advertising. As a result, the information on this site tends to be candid, hard-hitting, and often critical of private corporations and federal regulatory bodies. In my opinion this is a useful and credible website.
Much of the Worst Pills website requires a small paid annual subscription, however visitors to the site have access at no charge to a selection of Consumer Guides such as “Introduction to Drugs That Can Cause Cognitive Impairment,” and “Misprescribing and Overprescribing of Drugs.”
Subscribers to the online database have access to more than 500 frequently updated drug profiles, breaking drug-safety alerts sent to your e-mail, the latest monthly newsletter articles, and every article published since 2004.
A recent article, for example, available to subscribers is, “The FDA has approved four drugs for treating Alzheimer’s disease... Learn why we have designated each of these drugs as Do Not Use.”
A 12-month online subscription is only $15. Partial to information in print rather than digits? Receive a print copy of Worst Pills, Best Pills News in your mailbox each month for $20 per year.
Lawrence D. Weiss is a UAA Professor of Public Health, Emeritus, creator of the UAA Master of Public Health program, and author of several books and numerous articles.