A Potentially Deadly Mistake

Pill Box

Prescription medications are so commonplace that we can start to view them as benign. This is far from the truth. They must be taken as prescribed, and even then they must be used with a high degree of vigilance.

Medications taken incorrectly, or even at the wrong time, can be very dangerous — even deadly. Kerry Kennedy, daughter of the famous Attorney General and assassinated presidential candidate Robert Kennedy, recently learned this in a painful way. She says she woke up one morning and took what she thought was her thyroid medication, then got into her car and started driving. Shortly thereafter, she was awakened by police, slumped over her steering wheel. She had sideswiped a semi in a drug-induced blackout. Apparently, she had mistakenly taken the sleeping pill zolpidem (Ambien), which looks much like the thyroid medication that she claims she thought she was taking.

This is an extreme case of a medication misadventure which fortunately did not — but could have — resulted in death. Always double-check your medications prior to taking them, and always take them as prescribed. Even when you do this, if you think that you may be experiencing a side effect, talk to your pharmacist or physician. Every person is different, and your reaction to a "standard" dose of a medication may not be "standard."

John R. White chairs WSU-Spokane's Department of Pharmacotherapy.

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