Dangerous drugs in the news

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A number of “dangerous drugs” have been in the news recently. These reports started to surface when Congress was having hearings about the painkiller, Vioxx. A Food and Drug Administration staff member testified in front of Congress that there are safety concerns about several medications. These medications are Accutane, Arava, Bextra, Celebrex, Crestor, Lotronex, Meridia, and Serevent.

When you put the problems in perspective, the number of problems related to these medications is incredibly small compared to the number of people who took the drugs. If five million people have taken the medication and one has had a serious side effect, that’s one in a five million, or 0.00002%. The chances are not that great, but the chance is there.

The following is a quick summary of what the FDA believes are some of the concerns with these medications.


This medication is very effective for severe acne. It is also well-known that Accutane causes serious birth defects. Because of this, the manufacturer has set guidelines for its dispensing. If the patient is female, she must have a negative pregnancy test EVERY month before the doctor writes the prescription. It then must be filled within seven days. The patient must also go back to the doctor every month for a new prescription. Women who take Accutane and are sexually active should two forms of birth control and not become pregnant for at least a month after stopping the medication.

The problems arise when women take Accutane from a friend or get it from another country. They are then not being monitored by a doctor and may not know the dangers of pregnancy.

Another topic surrounding Accutane is the reported increase in suicide rates. It has been stated that Accutane makes some patients feel depressed or irritable. This is where friends and family can step in and discuss these problems with the patient. If someone is feeling depressed or has thoughts of suicide while on Accutane, please tell them to let their doctor know right away.


Arava is used for treating severe rheumatoid arthritis. During the last several years, reports of serious lung or liver problems have arisen in patients taking this medication. Patients on Arava are required to get frequent liver function tests to detect any problems before they get serious. Virtually every time, liver failure occurs gradually over a long period of time. By testing frequently, these problems can be detected early and can be fixed. The signs of liver problems include: nausea, abdominal pain, fatigue, dark urine, pale stools, and yellowish eyes or skin.

The signs of lung problems include fever above 101°, chills, sore throat, ear pain, cough, nose pain, or colored sputum. If you are taking Arava and have any of these symptoms, contact your doctor.


This medication is used primarily for mild to moderate pain. It works in the same way that Vioxx did before it was taken off the market. Experts are therefore concerned that Celebrex can lead to the same increased chance of stroke of other heart problems.

The cardiovascular risk is extremely low, but the risk is there. Because of this, those who have heart problems may want to avoid Celebrex. If you are currently taking Celebrex, contact your doctor about your concerns. Often times, regular anti-inflammatories like ibuprofen or naproxen work quite well.


Crestor is in the drug class statins and is used to lower cholesterol. Some consumer advocates say it should be taken off the market because of the chance for kidney and liver problems. These problems are rare and the risk is minimized by using lower doses and by periodically checking kidney and liver function. Anyone taking Crestor should call their doctor if they experience muscle pain or weakness, nausea, abdominal pain, fatigue, dark urine, pain when urinating, pale stools, or yellow-looking eyes or skin. These are the signs of liver or kidney problems.


Lotronex is used for women with Irritable Bowel Syndrome who have frequent diarrhea and have failed to get better on other treatments. Reports have been in the news because about 0.1% of women who take Lotronex may get sever constipation. It can also cause ischemic colitis, caused by low blood flow to parts of the gut. This may occur in about 0.29% of women who take Lotronex more than six months. If you feel the risks outweigh the rewards, there are other medications for diarrhea or irritable bowel syndrome that don’t have these effects.


Meridia is used for weight loss, but it can increase blood pressure and heart rate. There are reports of stroke and heart attack in patients taking Meridia, but these may not be caused by the drug. Since many overweight people already have high blood pressure or heart disease, it may not be he drug causing the problems. Patients taking Meridia should check their blood pressure and heart rate at least weekly and report any sustained increases to their physician.


Serevent is a long acting bronchodilator used to prevent airway constriction in patients with asthma. It may lead to an increased risk of asthma worsening, especially when the medicine is not used properly. Serevent should not be used for emergency breathing difficulties. The fast acting inhaler, albuterol, should be used for these emergencies. Serevent should always be used with another inhaler that controls inflammation, such as an inhaled steroid.

Like winning the lottery or getting struck by lightning, rare side effects do occur, but your chances are slim of getting one. Realize that millions of people throughout the world take these medications. Some people are simply predisposed to certain problems. The news media loves to blow these stories out of proportion.

Every medication has potential side effects. Your doctor should know the possible side effects and can weigh the benefit of your medication against their risks. Be sure to ask any questions you have when a drug is prescribed by your doctor or dispensed by your pharmacist. Always follow the medication instructions and never share medications with anyone. If you are hesitant to take a certain drug, by all means, let your doctor know. There are a number of different medications that can also help you.

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