August 12, 2013

How to learn about prescription drug ingredients?


Due to a recent recall of the thyroid medication levoxyl, my blog has been a buzz with detailed comments about pharmaceuticals.  A few of these comments centered around allergies to inactive ingredients.  I am learning what a hardship this is for many cancer patients and others suffering from chronic illnesses, including those who need gluten free products because of Celiac disease. I began to wonder where patients can find reliable information about the content of specific drugs.

I love sharing new resources I’ve found and this is a good one: Daily Med.   It contains a database of FDA approved inserts found in prescription drug packaging, which you can download and/or email to yourself.   Sure, you can go to the recycle bin and pull out the insert from your most recent refill.  But what if you are considering taking a new drug and want to read the insert before purchasing it, or want to arm yourself with smart information about new drugs to discuss with your doctor at your next appointment?  This site is extremely helpful.  I find great value in being able to pull up different data sheets on the same drug produced by different manufacturers.  This allows you to really shop around and compare inactive ingredients, which may differ from name brand to generic, or differ between manufacturers.

The inserts found in the Daily Med database contain loads of information including clinical pharmacology and a list of all inactive drug ingredients.  I learned, for example, that my Synthroid thyroid medication contains FD&C Blue No. 1 Aluminum Lake.  These inserts are clearly formatted, which is great as some of the information is either over my head – molecular diagrams, or information I like to skip over and have my husband filter for me – most especially the many side effects that pose an extremely small risk but that would freak me out if I knew what they were.

Daily Med is published by the National Institute of Health, which is a government entity.  (Hint: If you see .gov in a URL it is a government website.) A lot of research I conducted both for my own cancer care and for my book Everything Changes, came from government websites like Medline Plus or Pubmed.  One thing I particularly like about Daily Med is it does not accept advertising.  It truly exist as a public resource for health care professionals and consumers.

Have you ever had reactions to inactive ingredients in a drug?  How did you learn which ingredients were impacting you?

For copious tips on health literacy and how about to become a savvy patient researcher, check out my book Everything Changes.

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