In 1956, a West German pharmaceutical company, as a sedative, introduced a drug called as thalidomide.  It was marketed under the name of Contergan.   By 1958, it was promoted all over the world and was used for combating insomnia.  Pregnant women were given this drug for nausea.  Soon thalidomide’s teratogenic effects became apparent and hundreds of children were born with seal limbs and many horrific abnormalities. The drug became disgraced and it was subsequently withdrawn from the market in 1961. 

In recent years, several drugs have been introduced with a big media splash, only to be condemned later for sometimes life threatening side effects. Often newspaper headlines scream frightening headlines that Parkinson’s drug called as Pergolide can damage heart valves. There are plenty of examples of how Pharmaceutical companies hide drug side effects for profits.  A drug for arthritis called as a COX 2 inhibitor –Vioxx was withdrawn after it was seen to cause more heart attacks.  Now the truth is finally starting to come that Prozac, which is an anti-depressant, causes an increase incidence of suicide rates among its uses by almost 1200%.

Every patient should be aware of his medications:

v  All patients should know the name of the medication, and its actions and side reactions.

v  Can he/she take it on empty stomach?

v   How long should the medication be taken? Some patients take the medicines well beyond the required date and this can cause drug toxicity.

v  Can the medication cause an allergic reaction? The answer is yes because all medications have the potential to cause allergic reactions at any time.

v  Some drugs interact with alcohol and cause reactions. Some medicines react adversely with food.  Sometimes, patients have to rest after taking a particular medication.

v  Should one expect side effects to every medication?  The answer is yes. Every medication has the potential to have side effects.

v  Some medications are unsafe during lactation or pregnancy.

v  Some medications especially injectable insulin should be stored in a fridge; otherwise, there is a loss of efficacy.

v  All patients should ask their doctors about drug-drug interactions if they are using multiple medications.


It is impossible to compute the total number of deaths or morbidities due to drug reactions. The National Institute of Health (NIH, USA) estimates that the number of people with adverse drug reactions admitted to hospitals in the year 2006 was about 2.2 million. It is estimated that over 20 million unnecessary antibiotic prescriptions are written in the US alone.  The figures will be definitely worse in the third world. 

Drug interactions and reactions take millions of lives the world over, every year. Patients must wake up make informed choices and learn about their medications either from their physicians or by reading about the medication from the Internet.