Protect yourself

Ask your doctor the right questions and don’t leave before you have the answers.

Bryan Hubbard | June 2003 issue
* How long has this drug been on the market?
As we have seen, many of the problems of drugs and their side effects are with the newer drugs that have been recently licensed, and that are being aggressively marketed by the drug company’s salesmen. If your doctor takes you off a particular drug, and tries another drug that he says will work better, be very suspicious. You may be an unwitting guinea pig in a drugs trial.
* Is drug therapy really needed for this problem?
Many conditions, such as premenstrual tension or depression after bereavement, can be treated by diet or the loving attention of friends and relatives. A new study finds that people suffering from major depression can be helped just as well by help in facing up to and solving their problems as by taking antidepressants. Unless you can be persuaded that your condition will definitely worsen, why introduce a substance that could also introduce a whole new set of problems?
*What will happen if I don’t take the drug?
*What is this drug supposed to do for me? How will it do that? How are you going to monitor the use of the drug? Do your instructions differ for those of the data sheet?
*What sorts of drugs or substances (including non-prescription drugs, food or alcohol) should I avoid when taking this drug?
*With what other drugs does this drug dangerously react?
Although one drug used alone might carry a small risk, when combined with another drug, that risk can be multiplied several times over, as can the strength of the toxicity.
*What are the known side effects of this drug, as reported by the manufacturer?
(Don’t settle for vague assurances by your doctor; request that he read out from MIMS, there and then.)
*What are the latest reports in the medical literature about this drug’s side effects?
Magazines like The Lancet publish new studies… Most large science libraries will have the American Physician’s Desk Reference or the Data Sheet Compendium on the shelf. The British Library’s medical section holds both. Another possibility is to do a Medline Search, a computerised version of the Cumulated Index Medicus, a summary of most scientific studies performed on most treatments. If your library doesn’t have Medline, they probably have the Index Medicus itself, an unwieldy volume that will fill most of a shelf.

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