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Mixing medicines - deadly compounds

Updated on August 18, 2016


These days it is nearly impossible to meet a person that is not currently or have been taking multiple medications in the past. It is a known fact that using any kind of pill (either prescription of over the counter) does produce some sort of side effects. These effects can double or produce new ones if multiple drugs are taken at the same time. How are people really informed about the side effects of mixing different medications.

People need to use common sense and ask questions to your docotr or your pharmacologist. They have the power to minimize the risks of deadly outcomes when mixing multiple medications.

World statistics

  • According to the Institute of Medicine, every year, more than 1.5 million people in the U.S. are harmed by medication errors (reported in 2006)
  • Approximately ten million Britons regularly take herbal remedies, vitamins and minerals.
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported approximately 20,000 unintentional drug interactions in 2004.

Common classes of different drugs and their effects


Medications and alcohol

Alcohol interactions may either increase or decrease the effectiveness of medications or render them useless. In other cases, it may make medications harmful or even toxic to the body. Here are some examples:

  1. Prescription pain medicines and antianxiety pills like Valium and Xanax can have an additive effect with alcohol including reduced driving response.
  2. For your organs mixing alcohol with acetaminophen (paracetamol or Tylenol) can have harmful effects for your liver.
  3. Cough medicines (and narcotic pain medications) and antihistamine include cold preparations with alcohol will amplify sedative effects.
  4. Alcohol and antibiotics together are not well studied. Mainly known is the interactions between metronidazole (Flagyl) and the sulfa antibiotic drugs (for example Bactrim). Common side effects from mixing these two include nausea, vomiting, flushing, headache and stomach pain.

Side effects of mixing different drugs with alcohol include:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Headaches
  • Drowsiness
  • Dizziness
  • Fainting
  • Changes in blood pressure
  • Abnormal behavior
  • Loss of coordination
  • Accidents
  • Increases the risk of liver damage, heart problems, internal bleeding, impaired breathing and depression.

Prescription medications and herbal remedies

Popular supplements such as garlic, ginger, St John’s Wort and even green tea can all have hazardous impacts when mixing with different medications. Here are few examples:

  • Feverfew, ginger, and ginkgo (lowers blood pressure or thins the blood) interact with aspirin and warfarin.
  • Garlic supplements (reduces blood pressure) can interfere with anti-clotting medications and the immunosuppressant drug cyclosporine which prevents transplant rejection.
  • Taking grapefruit juice with medicines can block enzymes that break down the juice in the intestine (known effect includes statins, antihypertensives, psychiatric drugs and Viagra).
  • Sedative valerian (alternative to sleeping pills), can intensify the effect of anaesthetics
  • St John’s Wort, a herbal treatment for depression, can interact with immunosuppressive drugs and potentially lead to the rejection of transplants.

Research has shown that mixing these two compounds is greatest in younger and older people (including pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers) and those with multiple health conditions who take numerous pills.


Mixing prescription drugs

  1. Antidepressants and methadone should not be taken together since one can increase the sedative effect of the other.
  2. Since supplements are in a different regulation than other medications, taking painkillers and supplements can be a real problem (one does not know what is in the supplement)
  3. It is shown that antibiotics can reduce the effectiveness of oral contraceptives. So when using antibiotics, it is necessary to take extra precautions when having sex.
  4. Coumadin (popular blood thinner) should not be mixed with either ginseng or aspirin. They have an additive effect increasing the chance of internal bleeding or reduce blood clotting upon external injury.
  5. Nasal congestants should not be used when having elevated blood pressure. These can increase your blood pressure even more.
  6. SSRIs also are known to interact with OTC (over-the-counter) antihistamines, causing extreme drowsiness.

MD, PhD Russ Altman explains what happens when taking multiple medications

Factors that effect drug interactions

These include genetics, age, diet, exercise, underlying diseases, current medications and the period of time that elapses between the administration of the two drugs. There is no such thing as a risk-free drug. Drug interactions can happen within weeks from first exposure. This effect cannot be predicted correctly if medications are not taken as recommended by the doctor.

Another big factor is the lack of information patience have. Doctors and other health care professionals should encourage people to seek more information.

How to prevent drug interactions

Each time you visit your doctor, you should take a list of medications including dietary supplements. Doctor can come up with an educated treatment plan if he or she knows which medicines their patients are taking.

Ask your doctor for drug interactions. Patient is the number one caregiver of one self and patient’s responsibility is to safeguard his or her health. If your doctor is unaware of multiple drug interactions ask this from the pharmacy when dropping off a new prescription. A good idea is to use the same pharmacy for all of their prescriptions so that interactions will be spotted more easily in the computer system.

There are also online tools that can help you learn about drug interactions and possibly avoid serious health issues


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