Drugs and Supplements

The latest on glucosamine/chondroitin supplements

Robert H. Shmerling, MD
Robert H. Shmerling, MD, Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publications

Despite a lack of conclusive evidence, millions of Americans take glucosamine, chondroitin, or both for joint protection or relief from arthritis pain. While these supplements are considered safe, they are not regulated the way prescription drugs are and can cause side effects.

Is there a way to lower the cost of an EpiPen?

Celia Smoak Spell
Celia Smoak Spell, Contributor

The lifesaving medication contained in an EpiPen is not expensive; the high cost is due mainly to the injector. Competing devices have not been successful so far, and no generic alternative is yet available. Finding ways to mandate that insurance fully cover the medication may not really bring the price down.

When do you really need antibiotics for that sinus infection?

Monique Tello, MD, MPH
Monique Tello, MD, MPH, Contributor

Many people with sinus infections expect to be given antibiotics for treatment, but in most cases the infection will improve on its own. If a person’s symptoms meet certain criteria — for example, when colorful nasal discharge and facial pressure and pain last for more than 10 days — then antibiotics are recommended.

2 simple ways to ensure you give your kids the right dose of medicine (lots of parents don’t)

Claire McCarthy, MD
Claire McCarthy, MD, Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publications

It’s surprisingly easy to give a child an incorrect dosage of liquid medication, and many parents do. When giving medication to a child, be sure you understand the instructions and use a medication syringe rather than a dosing cup. Take the extra time to read and think, and ask questions. These simple steps can make all the difference.

MRSA: The not-so-famous superbug

Michaela Kane
Michaela Kane, Contributor

The MRSA bacteria is not uncommon, and people can become seriously ill when MRSA infections go unchecked. Unfortunately, MRSA can be particularly difficult to treat because it easily adapts to become resistant to antibiotics. Although these infections occur primarily in hospitals, they can also occur in close or crowded conditions where it’s possible to come in contact with an infected wound, or if personal items are shared. Signs of MRSA should be reported to your doctor right away. Luckily, careful hygiene and hand washing can help you avoid this troublesome infection.

Saving lives by prescribing naloxone with opioid painkillers

Sarah Wakeman, MD, FASAM, Medical Director, Massachusetts General Hospital Substance Use Disorder Initiative

Unintentional opioid overdose is now the leading cause of accidental death in the United States. These drugs are prescribed to patients to help relieve pain, but overdoses happen because opioids can also depress breathing, sometimes stopping it altogether. But naloxone, also called Narcan, can help reverse the effects of an overdose. If doctors prescribe naloxone at the same time as opioids, overdose deaths may decrease.

Marijuana: Health effects of recreational and medical use

Wynne Armand, MD
Wynne Armand, MD, Contributing Editor

Regardless of whether or not marijuana is legal, using it can have long-term health effects, especially in those who are heavy users. Marijuana shows promise for treating certain medical conditions and symptoms, and further potential benefits are still being studied.

The trouble with antibiotics

Susan Farrell, MD
Susan Farrell, MD, Contributing Editor

The overuse of antibiotics has led to an increase in antibiotic resistance, and inappropriate prescribing and antibiotic misuse are major contributors to this problem. In one study conducted between 2010 and 2011, researchers noted that as many as 34 million prescriptions for antibiotics were written for illnesses like the flu, upper respiratory infections, and bronchitis, all of which typically don’t require the use of antibiotics. Although antibiotic use is necessary for some infections, like pneumonia and urinary tract infections, many people will often get better in a reasonable amount of time by simply treating symptoms.

Buying into generic drugs

Matthew Solan
Matthew Solan, Executive Editor, Harvard Men's Health Watch

Generic versions of drugs are just as effective as their name-brand counterparts, and they cost less than the brand names. Although there are various reasons why your doctor might not always recommend switching to the generic version, it is important to speak with your doctor about the cost of your prescriptions and ask if there is a generic version available.

“Superbugs” and the very real threat of untreatable infections

Michaela Kane
Michaela Kane, Contributor

Doctors recently discovered a gene in E. coli bacteria that makes it resistant to an antibiotic that is typically used when other drugs fail. This new finding suggests that effectiveness of last-resort antibiotics is at risk. As more bacteria evolve to “outsmart” antibiotics, scientists are increasingly concerned about infections caused by “superbugs” that cannot be treated with existing antibiotics.