Who Reads Drug Package Inserts? It Ain't Us

Shilo Zylbergold | Best Medicine
Who Reads Drug Package Inserts? It Ain't Us

image by: Mary Anne Enriquez

Hard-to-handle, and difficult to read package “stuffer” printed in Lilliputian type of Bible paper - FreeDictionary.com

Have you ever taken a close look at the spec sheet that accompanies the medication for any new prescription you may have picked up at your local pharmacy? Also referred to as a drug monograph, this takes the form of one or several printed pages informing you of the dangers, side effects, and contraindications of the pharmaceutical you are about inflict on your body and nervous system.

The first thing you should notice about these drug monographs is that they are impossible to read. The print font is so miniscule that even your reading glasses won’t help you very much. In fact, if you didn’t need reading glasses before you tried to peruse the specs, you will surely need them from now on. You might consider a magnifying glass to help you enlarge the characters, but my advice is that nothing less than an electron microscope will do the job.

Let’s pretend that you somehow manage to sidestep the obstacle of the impossibly tiny print and are able to access the critical facts accompanying your new medication. You will immediately notice that every single warning about possible dangers, health threats, and severe side effects is pointing to symptoms you are already experiencing and probably this is the reason you have bothered to take this drug in the first place. If this isn’t bad enough, as you move farther down the list of contraindications, you will find that almost every possible harmful outcome resulting from taking the drug is far worse than any condition you may have had originally.

As you work your way down the Patient Information Leaflet, you will find the topics laid out under several subheadings. Under USES, you will learn the prime purpose of the medication and what conditions it works best to control. More importantly, it will tell you to avoid using the drug if you display other symptoms. For instance, Amiodipine assists in lowering high blood pressure but doesn’t do much to relieve chest pain or reduce the discomfort from athlete’s foot. If you suffer from a bad case of halitosis aka bad breath, Amiodipine is definitely not the way to go.

Under the heading of HOW TO USE, you will learn whether to take the medication orally or otherwise, how much to take, how many times a day, and whether to take it with or without food. If it comes in liquid form, you will be informed as to whether it should be stirred and not shaken or shaken and not stirred. Most importantly, it will let you know how long you must keep taking your medication before you are allowed to call your pharmacist or doctor to complain that it isn’t helping.

When it comes to the SIDE EFFECTS heading, as mentioned earlier, these can take the form of almost every symptom under the sun. Does your pill make you feel dizzy or light-headed? Do you feel more sensitive to sunlight? Is your skin suddenly itchy and are there signs of a rash? You realize as you scan down the checklist of side effects that you are mentally ticking every box on the leaflet. The more you read, the worse you feel. How long has that headache been there? Was that numbness you feel in your fingertips there before, or did it develop since you picked up your medication? Then again, is it a result of having to dig down deep into the chest freezer to find that container of last year’s Christmas’ shortbread cookies?

More alarming than the items listed in the side effects section are the warnings falling under the PRECAUTIONS heading. Seriously, by no means should you ever read this section. Just skip right past this part of the pamphlet entirely or you will discover that you risk certain death or worse by ingesting even one of the pills prescribed to you.

Why the alarm? It’s not exactly clear but whatever it is that will happen to you will make it hazardous for you to drive, operate heavy machinery, or even stick a stamp onto an envelope without risking dire consequences. By no means should you consume alcohol, marijuana, or breast milk while on this medication and especially not all at the same time.

Even if your new medication doesn’t cause you to drop dead instantly, it may cause you to experience an allergic reaction destined to disrupt your existence and make your life miserable. You may break out in hives, develop difficulty in swallowing, or possibly worst of all, suddenly burst into a Swiss yodelling song. It is also possible that you may become unexpectedly oversensitive to certain foods which had never given you any problems before. For instance, it’s quite likely that a steady diet of chocolate milkshakes, when combined with your new prescription, may lead to weight gain and the appearance of an inner tube of fat circling your waistline.

The next heading, DRUG INTERACTIONS, warns you that you may be adversely affected by how your new prescription interacts with other medicinal products you are presently using. These products may come in the form of prescription drugs, non-prescription drugs, vitamins, minerals, herbal remedies, balms, salves, ointments, sprays, cough syrups, energy beverages, and diet aids. You may be asked to make up a list of all your meds and supplements so that your pharmacist can check them for possible interactions. If you do this, no matter how careful you are, you can be sure you will accidentally omit the one medication or supplement that will cause you the most grief and permanent harm (provided that you ever do get released from the ER).

If the literature that comes with your newly prescribed medication hasn’t been alarming enough for you up to this point, the heading OVERDOSE is sure to put you over the top. This is especially true if you are one of the metrically challenged who think that grams, milligrams, and micrograms are basically the same thing. Just make sure that the local Poison Control Centre number is always close at hand.

All this medicinal information is especially relevant during this celebratory time of year. Nobody asked me, but you might just find that you need to throw back a pill or two as a remedy for holiday over-exuberance. Remember to always take as directed and, for your own peace of mind, avoid reading the accompanying information leaflet.

And if that doesn’t make you feel better, why don’t you try a Swiss yodelling song.

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