Here are some non-prescription drugs that can still harm you

Mexico has a drug problem, but it’s not all related to narcotics and gangs.

At pharmacies there, you can get a variety of potent medications that would require a prescription in Canada or the U.S.

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Over the years, I’ve stopped being surprised with patients returning from their vacations with antibiotics and cardiac medications they purchased without a prescription.

In order to slow down the progressive evolution of drug-resistant bacteria (such as MRSA), Canadian doctors are careful to avoid overprescribing antibiotics. Sometimes, it feels futile when the pharmacies in the rest of the world are selling antibiotics for common colds.

Though Canada has good regulations to increase medication-related safety, most consumers underestimate the power - and danger - of drugs they can currently buy without seeing their doctors.

In this column, you’ll learn what you should know about the risks of the top-six drugs you can buy in Canada without a doctor’s prescription.

Let’s start with the two most dangerous:

1. ASA or Aspirin. ASA (usually at a low dose of 80 or 81 mg and called a “baby aspirin” though it is no longer safe to give to children) was once recommended for every senior to prevent heart attacks.

ASA has been shown to prevent or reduce the severity of a heart attack - and to a lesser extent reducing the risk of strokes caused by blood clots - by inhibiting the action of platelets – the blood cells that aggregate and form blood clots in the arteries supplying the muscle of the heart.

More recently, ASA has been shown to reduce the risk for colon cancer. It is also a painkiller and an anti-inflammatory. In the olden days when I was a child, I was given ASA to treat rheumatoid arthritis.

However, these benefits come with significant risks, mainly of bleeding – primarily from the gastrointestinal tract, resulting in an increased risk of bleeding stomach ulcers.  

For these reasons, ASA is no longer recommended for the primary prevention (i.e. for healthy people who are not known to be at increased risk) of heart attacks or strokes. However, ASA is appropriate for some patients who have had a previous heart attack or stroke and for others for whom physicians have determined that the benefits of taking it outweigh the risks of bleeding.

If you are currently taking daily ASA, talk to your doctor to determine if it is appropriate for you given your personal medical profile. You should not take ASA as an anti-inflammatory or a painkiller, as there are alternatives that are much safer.

2. Ibuprofen. Advil and Motrin are commonly given to children for fever. Like ASA, ibuprofen is an anti-inflammatory and painkiller. It is effective for the short-term management of muscle or tendon strains, but like ASA, it increases your risk for a bleeding ulcer. Though the bacteria, H. pylori is a principle cause of stomach and duodenal ulcers, the only times I’ve seen young people with ulcers was a result of taking ibuprofen.

A lot of seniors reach for ibuprofen to manage the pain of osteoarthritis, but it would be much safe for them to take acetaminophen or Tylenol. In addition to the risks of gastrointestinal bleeding, ibuprofen can raise blood pressure, reduce kidney function, worsen congestive heart failure and interact with certain blood pressure medications.

Naproxen or Alleve is in the same drug class as ibuprofen and carries similar risks.

In my next column, I’ll update you with the dangers of four more potent non-prescription drugs.

Dr. Davidicus Wong is a family physician. His Healthwise Column appears regularly in this paper. For more on achieving your positive potential in life, read his blog at davidicuswong.wordpress.com.

 

 

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