When Drugs Collide

There's no denying it: Americans take a lot of pills, both prescription and over-the-counter medications. Most of the time, they do just what they're supposed to do.

But not always.

A major new study indicates that more than 700,000 Americans suffer severe reactions to medications every year, many because of interactions between two or more drugs.

Dr. Mallika Marshall dropped by The Saturday Early Show to tell viewers about such interactions, and how to avoid them.

The new study of harmful reactions to commonly used medicines was released this week and published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). The study, sponsored by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), found that accidental overdoses and allergic reactions to prescription drugs were the most frequent cause of serious illnesses. But interactions between prescription and over-the-counter drugs and supplements also pose a significant risk.

People over 65 face the greatest risks.

The study authors and other experts agreed that the 700,000 estimate is conservative, because bad drug reactions are likely often misdiagnosed.

To avoid bad drug interactions, the most important things you can do are:

  • Talk to your doctor.
  • Know your pharmacist.

    Before you take any drug, ask:

  • Is it OK to take it with other drugs?
  • Are there particular foods and beverages you should avoid while taking the drug?
  • What are the signs of a bad interaction with the drug?