“Drugs and Poisons in your Home”

Dangers in Your Medicine Cabinet – my latest segment on Dr Oz

Over-the-counter medications are a great resource–I use them as both a physician, mom, and patient at times myself. But just because they’re available without a prescription doesn’t mean you can use them without caution.  Want to know more? Catch my latest Dr Oz appearance that aired yesterday.


What’s this about Azithromycin and Heart Problems?

IMG_0159If you’ve been watching today’s news, you’ve probably heard about the new FDA warning against the antibiotic Azithromycin (known as “Z-Pack”).  This is a WIDELY used antibiotic, so you probably have questions.  Here’s what you need to know in a nutshell.

  • Theoretically, Azithromycin can cause your heart beat to become out of sync, putting you at risk for heart arrhythmias and death (for you “House” fans out there, the arrhythmia is called “Torsades de Pointes”, and you get bonus points if you say it with a french accent)
  • The FDA reviewed data and a study that came out last year (from my home-state of Tennessee, THANK YOU VERY MUCH–GO VOLS!), and showed that for every 1,000,000 (yes, 1 million) prescriptions for azithromycin, there were  50 more deaths than patients that did not receive it.  So, we’re talking VERY small numbers here.
  • Plus, someone who gets a prescription for azithromycin is probably MORE sick than someone who doesn’t get the prescription, right? So, they’re already at higher risk–something that has nothing to do with azithromycin itself.
  • Not to mention: Other antibiotics and other medications can also theoretically put you at risk for this arrhythmia–no medication is 100% “safe”, and each carries its own risk.  (NOTE: even too much water can cause death, so put that away in your “moderation is the key” files!)
  • So what am I doing and what should you do?  We know that certain people were at higher risk of complications–heart disease,  pre-existing heart arrhythmias, low potassium and magnesium, and older age.  Of course, these are also the patients at higher risk of illness from infections.  Now, when I have a patient asking for this antibiotic or in whom I’m considering it, I have a long talk with them.  Naturally, someone with pneumonia or another infection is at risk if I DON’T give them an antibiotic, so as in everything in medicine, it’s about weighing the risks and benefits, and there’s no right answer.
  • So, if you really need the antibiotic, take it.  But it’s also further support for cautious use of all antibiotics, period.

Fox News Boston: Deaths from Prescription Drug Misuse Rising

Did you know that the number of people killed from drug poisoning every year in the US is EQUAL to the number killed by car accidents???

Click HERE to watch the clip

To the “It wouldn’t happen to me” of you out there, I’m not just talking about drug abusers or addicts. The greatest number of deaths are happening in the non-Hispanic male, ages 40-50s.  Someone who was prescribed  painkillers for a knee or back injury.  One pill worked, so one day they took two, and maybe had an extra glass of wine.  They had no idea that what they were doing could end them up in my ED.

The numbers in teens are also frighteningly rising, and most say that they get these pills from their “friends” (who likely pilfered some from their parent’s or grandparent’s pills after a prior surgery)–turning medications that were obtained legitimately into something deadly.  The consequences are the same when I see them in the ED–lethargic, unresponsive, slow breathing, slow heart rates…sometimes with no breathing at all, which is why they’re so deadly.  Ironically, someone who is not addicted to drugs (ie: your neighbor or loved one or you) is MORE at risk, since their body is not adjusted to these kinds of medications.

Watch today’s clip at FoxNews Boston (the link will be added later today if you did’t catch it on TV).

If you think that someone you love may be abusing prescription drugs, check out the following sites:

  • http://timetoact.drugfree.org/  Gives you a set of questions to determine if your child or loved one is using drugs or alcohol and specific instructions of what to do
  • www.drugfree.org  also has a dedicated toll-free phone line for concerned parents and family members