PhotoPoliticians have focused lately on the cost of prescription drugs, zeroing in on older drugs whose prices may surge for no apparent reason.

While consumers are rightly concerned about what they pay for medication, a new study suggests we ought to be paying more attention to prescription drugs' side effects.

Anyone who watches television should be familiar with the fact that most drugs can have some side effects. That's because when these drugs are advertised – and they seem to be advertised constantly on TV – the marketing announcement must include details of potential side effects.

The requirement makes for an almost bizarre juxtaposition of words and images. While the commercial might show a puppy chasing a butterfly through a field of clover, the voice over might inform viewers the drug may cause your hair to fall out and your eyes to bleed.

Promoting awareness

Of course, not everyone who takes the drug will suffer all, or even one of the side effects. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) wouldn't approve it if they did. But the study notes that consumers need to be aware of what might happen, and consider that before taking the drug.

For its study, sifted through a popular online database of pharmaceutical information and identified the most commonly self-reported side effects and the medications that are likely to cause them. It focused on the following drugs:

  • Ambien
  • clonazepam
  • Concerta
  • hydrocodone
  • OxyContin
  • Percocet
  • Suboxone
  • Vicodin
  • Xanax
  • Zoloft

It found the most commonly reported side effects include lethargy, mood swings, and sexual dysfunction.

“This proves that side effects not only impact the body, but the mind as well,” the authors write. “Furthermore, these risks are not limited to drug abuse and can occur even when the medicine is taken as directed.”

Alarming rate

The study also finds that prescriptions for painkillers, tranquilizers, and stimulants are written at an “alarming rate” in the U.S., with over 4 billion prescription drugs filled in retail pharmacies in 2014.

“More people are taking these drugs than ever before, which increases both the chances of side effects and the threat of abuse,” the authors write.

Before taking a prescription medication, the study suggests consumers discuss them in depth with a health care provider, to understand the potential side effects, as well as the intended benefits.

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