Take these drugs: You'll feel better, or you could die

November 16, 2006|By Kevin Cowherd | Kevin Cowherd,Sun Columnist

It has now become virtually impossible to take any medication in this country and not be terrified by the "possible side effects" warnings.

I realized this the other day after coming across a magazine ad for Crestor, the popular cholesterol drug.

Under "Important Safety Information," there was this cheery sentence: "Unexplained muscle pain and weakness could be a sign of a rare but serious side effect."

Well, that didn't sound so good.

It sounded to me as if the Crestor people were saying: OK, you might get your cholesterol under control with this stuff.

But you might also start shrieking in pain and collapse on the floor.

Things didn't get any brighter as I read more of the safety info.

Because it went on to say that, while infrequent, other side effects include "muscle aches, constipation, weakness, abdominal pain, and nausea."

OK. Would this fill you with confidence as you tap a pill into your hand and reach for a glass of water?

Me? I don't think so.

But this is what happens when an entire industry starts listening to the lawyers and gets super paranoid about lawsuits.

It used to be that most medications listed only one or two side effects.

So you'd read the label and see something like: "Side effects may include dizziness and nausea."

OK, that wasn't so bad.

Dizziness and nausea - you could probably handle that for a while.

But now every medication lists a dozen things that can go wrong if you take the stuff.

Now they even break the side effects into subcategories.

In other words, they tell you the side effects of the side effects.

Now the label might go on to say: "Dizziness may include lightheadedness, vertigo and a feeling of disassociation. Nausea may include vomiting, stomach distress and a clammy feeling not unlike that caused by seasickness or drinking 10 rum and Cokes."

No wonder the ads tell you to "talk to your doctor" before taking the medicine.

Talk to your doctor?

You should probably talk to your 911 operator.

Because she's the one you're going to call when you take a dose and the room starts spinning and you can't stop throwing up.

Then there are the medications being advertised where one of the side effects listed is death.

OK, to me, death is a little more than just a "side effect."

I'd put it more in the category of a "permanent" effect.

Because once you die, all the other side effects will seem pretty meaningless.

Headaches, indigestion, high blood pressure - who cares about any of that when you're pushing up daisies?

But if you check out the ads for Celebrex, the arthritis pain-relief medication, death is a side effect listed prominently under - you'll love this - "Important Information."

"Celebrex, like all prescription NSAIDs" - no clue, don't ask - "may increase the chance of a heart attack or stroke that can lead to death," the ad says.

"Serious skin reactions or stomach and intestine problems such as bleeding and ulcers can occur without warning and may cause death."

OK, so there we have death listed twice as a possible side effect.

Now that has to make you pause when your doctor writes you a prescription for the stuff.

"Take this and try not to die" is basically what he's telling you.

My guess is he won't ask you to schedule a follow-up visit, either, until you've been on the medication for a while and he's sure you're not going to kick.

In the Celebrex ad I saw, a smiling middle-aged couple are pictured hiking in the woods, obviously enjoying themselves and free from the pain of osteoarthritis.

"Four rolling hills won't keep you from taking the road less traveled," says the caption above the photo.

But who knows how long the hike will last?

Maybe they'll only make it up two of the rolling hills.

You just hope they read that "Important Information" box before setting out.


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