The development of medications to treat a broad range of diseases and unpleasant symptoms has accelerated in the past several decades.
If you think about it, a century ago, with the exception of aspirin, few effective chemical treatments existed. For instance, antibiotics are a relatively new phenomenon. Although Alexander Fleming developed penicillin in 1929, its potential for widespread use was not realized until the 1940s.
Today, we take for granted that whatever our symptom or disease condition, there is likely a medication available to treat it. As a practicing physician, I rely daily on the availability of medications that proved to be effective in the management of a host of maladies.
I also think it is important to consider whether this proliferation of chemical treatments may have had some undesired consequences. It is a well-known fact that improper use of medications, drug overuse and medication interactions produce substantial disease and suffering.
There is no such thing as a “magic pill” that cures without the potential for adverse effects. Before you put a chemical in your body, logic dictates that you should first familiarize yourself with the potential benefits and risks.
Of course, the risk/benefit analysis of medication spans a broad spectrum with some medications considered safer than others. Yet, even some of the safest medications used properly become the most dangerous when used improperly.
Take the example of acetaminophen, the active agent in Tylenol. Taken in proper dosage, it is a safe and effective over-the-counter treatment for minor aches and pains or for fever. However, very high doses of Tylenol taken over a short period of time can lead to liver failure.
The risks of medications increase when used in higher doses or in combination with other medications. In some instances, the benefit may outweigh the risks.
If you take prescription medications, you should familiarize yourself with the reason for each medication, the most common side effects, the need for medication monitoring and the potential interactions with other drugs (including over-the-counter medications) or dietary supplements. It is wise to discuss these things with your physician and pharmacist.
Medications should always be used in the dose and frequency recommended or prescribed. More is not always better and may lead to increased risk. Also, if you choose not to take a prescribed medication, it is essential to discuss this with your health-care provider. If you feel that you are having side effects, you should express your concerns.
We are fortunate to live in an era when many effective treatments exist for a breadth of health problems. It is up to us all to make sure these treatments are used safely and appropriately.
Dr. Matthew A. Clark is a board-certified physician practicing at the Ute Mountain Ute Health Center in Towaoc.