When Drug Side Effects Pose Real Dangers

Among the 10 “scariest” side effects Dr. O’Shea listed in an article in Pharmacy Times are hallucinations that can result from psychiatric medications like Seroquel and Haldol; the sleep-enhancing drugs Ambien and Lunesta; and some anti-seizure drugs.

On a trip to Panama some years ago, my roommate developed psychotic hallucinations from the drug Lariam, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had recommended at the time to prevent malaria.

Also alarming is memory loss that sometimes results from “the nonbenzodiazepine sedative hypnotics, which include Ambien, Lunesta and Sonata,” Dr. O’Shea wrote. Most worrisome, however, is an increased risk of suicidal thoughts and behaviors in children, adolescents and young adults associated with all antidepressants.

All drugs, prescription and over-the-counter, have side effects or the potential to cause them, and the secret to safe and beneficial use lies in knowing what they might be and how they may be affected by your health, habits, diet, allergy sensitivities and other medications you take. Minor adjustments can often make a big difference in how effective and safe a medication will be for you.

For example, people on blood thinners must be cautious about taking aspirin and other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs that can increase the risk of bleeding.

In addition to harmful drug-drug interactions, many risks linked to medication result from interactions with foods, drinks, supplements, and other ailments. For example, some drugs, including most painkillers, are best taken with food to reduce gastrointestinal side effects, whereas others should be taken on an empty stomach to enhance their absorption.

The dose of the anticoagulant Coumadin has to be adjusted for consumption of certain vegetables rich in vitamin K like spinach, kale and broccoli, which can diminish the drug’s effectiveness. Grapefruit and pomegranate can limit the ability of a statin to lower cholesterol, but grapefruit can increase the effects of some drugs that treat high blood pressure. And blood pressure drugs called ACE inhibitors can impair excretion of potassium from foods like bananas.