The FDA approves dozens of prescription drugs each year, but that doesn’t mean they’re safe. Most prescription drugs come with a number of side effects — some of those side effects rather severe — and the dangers increase with dosage, duration, an individual’s constitution and other factors such as what else the patient consumes. Here’s a look at some of the most dangerous prescription drugs.
Prednisone. This drug is used to suppress the immune system and reduce inflammation. It’s a synthetic that mimics cortisol, which is naturally produced in the body’s adrenal glands. Sometimes it’s used to treat acute cases of poison ivy, but in other cases, it’s used to treat conditions such as arthritis. Used for a longer duration than a couple weeks, the side effects can include high blood pressure, weakening of bones and necrosis of the hip joints — particularly dangerous for older folks. Even worse, the adrenal glands will atrophy and stop producing cortisol on their own.
Bevacizumab (Avastin). This immunological agent is sometimes used for treating cancer alongside chemotherapy drugs, and when used in this capacity, could increase the risk of dying by 50% according to one analysis of the data spanning 16 studies of 5,589 patients. Other risks triple, such as bowel perforations, blood clots, and bleeding.
Warfarin. This drug is used to treat blood clots, but ironically, if it interacts dangerously with some drugs, foods, and vitamins, warfarin can actually cause severe bleeding. More than 120 drugs and foods have been shown to interact badly with warfarin, including some antibiotics, aspirin, acetaminophen, cold and allergy medications, vitamin E, garlic, ginseng, and green tea.
Statin drugs (Mevacor, Zocor, Provachol, and Lescol). People with high cholesterol are often prescribed statin drugs, which go by the number of brand names listed. This treatment is very effective, but in some cases, the side effects can be severe, such as liver damage. Although liver damage is rare, your doctor may order a liver enzyme test to make sure you’re not at risk. Signs of liver damage include weakness, fatigue, dark-colored urine and loss of appetite.
Clozapine (Clozaril, Versacloz). Used to treat patients with schizophrenia, especially those with suicidal tendencies, this drug comes with some serious adverse side effects. Among the many side effects is hallucinations, drooling, sedation, constipation, rapid heart rate and destruction of white blood cells, which can lead to low blood pressure, convulsions, weight gain, and diabetes.
Metoclopramide (Metozolv, Reglan). The FDA approved this drug in 1979 to treat gastrointestinal disorders such as acid reflux. If used longer than a few months, however, it could cause a condition known as tardive dyskinesia, a disorder that causes involuntary body movements such as rapid jerking motions, sticking out one’s tongue, grimacing or smacking of the lips. In 2009, the FDA required a black-box warning on this drug, the strongest of its kind, advising people of the risk of tardive dyskinesia after long-term use.
Warning labels are often the means by which the FDA communicates these dangers, but the labels are sometimes inadequate. Take the drug Cymbalta, for example. According to an FAQ on Is Cymbalta safe, “Because the packaging for Cymbalta includes little information about the withdrawal effects of the drug, many people have taken legal action against Eli Lilly for a defective label.”
In every case, consult your doctor before taking any prescription medications, and inform your doctor if you experience any side effects.