Canadian Medical Association Journal

Deadly Prescription Drug Interactions

We all know that mixing drugs and alcohol together and certain combinations of prescription drugs can be deadly. Now more new studies and cases reveal that unsuspected combinations can turn serious and even deadly. 

Tragic stories of accidental deaths caused by combinations of prescription drugs plague the media – from Heath Ledger to Anna Nicole Smith. And the risks associated with combining alcohol and prescription drugs are also well known and resulted in the tragic deaths of Jimi Hendrix and Amy Winehouse. Researchers are now finding more things that when combined with prescpriton medications can turn deadly.

A story last week broke about a man, Denis Duthie who went blind from mixing alcohol and his diabetes medication. After he drank Red Square Russian Vodka at his parent’s anniversary party everything turned black and he fell completely blind. Doctors thought he had gotten formaldehyde poisoning but it turned out his condition was from the combination of vodka and his diabetes medication.

In other incidents, people have ended up in the emergency room from combining grapefruit juice with their medications. Recently, researchers found that the highly addictive painkillers oxycodone, hydrocodone and the like also cause harmful reactions with grapefruit juice. In fact, there are at least 85 drugs (including oxycodone, Zocor, Lipitor and Nifediac) that can cause reactions with grapefruit juice. According to the Canadian Medical Association Journal, “Many of the drugs that interact with grapefruit are highly prescribed and are essential for the treatment of important or common medical conditions” and few patients know they are contraindicated with grapefruit juice.

The interactions are dangerous because the citrus in grapefruits contain furanocoumarins, which change the way the drugs are absorbed into the gastrointestinal track. The poor absorption flushes more of the drug into the bloodstream, which can result in accidental overdose, kidney damage, respiratory failure, GI tract bleeding, bone marrow suppression and even death. All of these reactions can occur even if the juice was ingested hours before the medication and vice versa. “Taking one tablet with a glass of grapefruit juice is like taking 20 tablets with a glass of water,” asserts David Bailey one of the researchers on the study.

It is always recommended that people check the interactions labels on their medications to protect themselves. However, once someone has crossed the line into addiction, few known interactions have the power to deter their substance abuse or deadly combinations of medications. If you or a loved one is at risk of accidental overdose or concerned about your use of alcohol and prescription medications, Synergy Group Services had effective drug and alcohol treatment programs that can help.

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