Prescription Drug Side Effects: Take As Directed

Nearly 30% of us stop taking our medicines before we should. Why playing doctor can be a dangerous game.

By Irene S. Levine | PhD from Reader's Digest | September 2008

Rico isn’t the only patient feeling the squeeze. Prescription drug prices have increased at nearly three times the rate of inflation over the past 12 years. And while a $20 drug co-pay used to be the norm, many insurance companies now pass along up to a third of the costs of certain expensive drugs.

Bottom line – “Ask your doctor if there are less expensive but equally effective alternatives,” such as generics, says Glen Stettin, MD, vice president of Medco, a pharmacy benefit management firm. If appropriate, splitting larger-dose pills can give you twice the doses for the same co-pay. You may also qualify for free or discounted medicines (try needy or the Partnership for Prescription Assistance at 888-477-2669 or And Consumers Union offers free downloadable guides on how to save.

“I Heard About a New Study”
Bonnie Russell of Del Mar, California, took hormone therapy for nearly a decade. She abruptly quit after reading news reports about a link between Premarin and increased risk of breast cancer. “The hot flashes soon returned,” says the family legal advocate. Like Russell, many women have decided they’d rather live with the symptoms of men_opause than with the fear of breast cancer or stroke.

Bottom line – Headlines with new information about drugs can be alarming. Don’t panic. Data from clinical trials is often complex and hard to interpret in a short news report. “And these reports may have an impact on only a small percentage of patients using the drug,” explains Dr. Stettin. No matter how hyped the headline, it’s safer to check with your doctor first about when and how to stop.

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