Drugs and Supplements
Anticoagulants — drugs that reduce the blood’s ability to clot — are used to treat clots in the lungs and legs and to prevent strokes in people with the heart rhythm abnormality called atrial fibrillation. The anticoagulant warfarin has been used for these purposes for many years. But it is difficult and time-consuming to find the optimal warfarin dose, and it carries a risk of difficult-to-control bleeding. Newer anticoagulants offer an easier and equally effective way to control the blood’s clotting ability, but until recently, there was no way to reverse the effects of these drugs if necessary. The approval of new antidotes to these newer anticoagulants will enable doctors to prescribe these drugs with increased confidence.
The statin drugs are very effective at reducing LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and may also reduce inflammation throughout the body. Both of these properties can reduce the risk of cardiovascular problems. At the same time, research — some of it conflicting — suggests that statins may also affect the body’s immune system. In particular, they may dampen the response to vaccines.
The FDA recently approved two new drugs that quickly and effectively lower LDL cholesterol levels. This exciting development is tempered by the very high cost of these drugs. These costs can even trickle down to others on the same insurance plan as people taking these new drugs. Several politicians and institutions have spoken out against these high costs, but it is unlikely that the prices will be lowered anytime soon. For now, these drugs should be reserved only for those whose other efforts to reduce LDL have been unsuccessful.
Many people believe that the placebo effect is solely a psychological phenomenon. But for some people, a placebo can have real, measurable therapeutic benefits. The power of the placebo effect is significant enough that it can actually skew study results. Additional research is needed to better understand how to leverage the placebo effect and when doing so might offer real benefits to patients.
Opioids are effective pain relievers. But sometimes people can develop a tolerance to these drugs, requiring increasingly higher doses of medication to achieve the same pain relief. And physical dependence — withdrawal symptoms when the drug is stopped — is also common. The increased availability of these drugs has put many people at risk for addiction, overdose, and even death.
Generic drugs used to be a reliable lower-cost alternative to many brand-name drugs. But thanks to a combination of market forces, the cost of many generics is rising quickly — and steeply. This trend will increase the burden of health care costs for insurers, governments, and individuals. Find out why this is happening, as well as what you can do to help sidestep these costs and advocate for policies that can stem this tide.
Many people take vitamins, supplements, and complementary nutritional products in an attempt to optimize health or help prevent disease. Like prescription drugs, these products can have adverse effects, some of which prompt people to seek emergency care. It is important to be a wise consumer if you choose to use these products. An important part of that is making sure your doctors knows exactly what vitamins, supplements, and nutritional products you take.
How much calcium do you really need for strong, healthy bones? The answer isn’t as clear as we once thought. Recent analyses suggest that neither dietary calcium nor calcium supplements reduce the risk of fractures. In the absence of a clear deficiency, it’s impossible to know how exactly much calcium a person needs. Ideally, you should get most of your calcium through food. Be sure you’re getting adequate vitamin D as well.
Having a terminal illness or debilitating disease is devastating. Imagine, then, being in that situation and exhausting the available treatment options — or having limited options to begin with. It’s understandable that people in these circumstances might welcome the opportunity to try experimental drugs or treatments. But it is not always easy or expedient to gain access to such therapies. So called “right-to-try” laws are supposed to help doctors and patients access these treatments. However, it isn’t clear that right-to-try laws will actually help, and they can create additional dilemmas in what are already complicated situations.
You might be surprised to learn that, on average, one in five prescriptions are written for an “off-label” use of a drug. That means the doctor believes that the recommended drug will help a patient, even though that drug has not been FDA-approved for that patient’s particular condition or symptoms. This practice is legal and common. Historically, the FDA has restricted the ability of pharmaceutical companies to advertise drugs for off-label uses. However, two recent court cases have opened the door to proactive promotion of drugs for off-label uses. Physicians and consumers need to be aware of this shift when it comes to using drugs safely for off-label purposes.