Seven medication mix-ups that could cost you your life

Mixing medicines can be a recipe for disaster. Here are seven things to look out for.


Many people are unaware of how some medications interact with other pharmaceutical treatments and which combinations need to be avoided.

It's estimated that up to 40 per cent of Australians over 65 are on five or more medications, and sometimes that can have dire consequences.

Adverse drug events account for more than 400,000 doctor visits and 190,000 hospital admissions each year. These figures don’t even take into account hospitalisations from car accidents or falls that may have been caused by medicine mix-ups.

Here are seven of the most common medicine mistakes people make.

1. Mixing drugs that interact adversely
Blood-thinning medication warfarin is one drug that commonly presents problems when taken with other medicines. The commonly prescribed anticoagulant interacts with some anti-fungal pills and creams, anti-arrhythmic drugs, thyroid drugs and diuretics, among others, to increase the risk of bleeding. Over-the-counter medicines such as aspirin and herbal medicines such as St John’s Wort can also interact with prescription medicines. These are just a few examples, but there are plenty more. Whenever you are prescribed a new medicine, it is important to mention any other supplements or medications you are taking to your doctor, and to ask if these will cause issues.

2. Mixing drugs and alcohol
A good doctor will warn you what medications you should not mix with alcohol, but not all medication requires a prescription. Some over-the-counter pain medications and antihistamine tablets will cause severe sedative effects when combined with alcohol. You also shouldn’t mix alcohol with antibiotic medication as it can cause nausea and vomiting.

3. Taking medicines incorrectly
Lack of information, instructions that are difficult to understand, and complex regimens can lead to patients not taking medicines correctly. When you leave your doctor's office, you need to know the name of the medication, what it is for, how many times you should take it and how your body might react. It is a good idea to ask the doctor to write out the instructions in his office in order to avoid any confusion (although you may still have to decipher their handwriting).

4. The wrong prescription
The handwriting problem is real and sometimes it has consequences. If the pharmacist is unable to read the doctor’s handwriting they may make a mistake. To avoid this, you can ask your doctor to write down what the drug is for on the prescription pad, which will help the pharmacist select the right medication. Other mix-ups can occur in pharmacies as well. Before you leave the pharmacy make sure that it is your name on the medicine bottles; and if you are picking up a refill, make sure that the tablets look the same as the ones you had before. If they look different, make sure you ask the pharmacist why.

5. Different doctors
Mistakes can also occur if you don’t see the same doctor for all your medical needs. Doctors should have access to all your medical history, but it isn’t uncommon for things to fall through the cracks. Where possible, try and have a single doctor manage and oversee all your medical issues and medications. If you see other healthcare professionals such as dermatologists or any other specialists, they should ask you which other medications you are on before prescribing you another. If they don’t, make sure that you are ready to tell them, and if you are on several medications, you should be equipped with a list of their names and the doses you are taking.

6. Taking unnecessary medicines
Doctors may feel it's not their responsibility to withdraw medications prescribed by another doctor, so patients may be prescribed something for a temporary condition that has since resolved. In a study where GPs were trained to review medications of elderly people, many were able to successfully reduce the number of medications taken by their patients.

7. Under-medicating
Confusion, forgetfulness or neglect on the part of their carer can also lead to under-medication. Patients on antibiotics can suffer side effects and may stop taking medicines; or they might feel better and stop taking the antibiotics before they're fully recovered. This can also be a problem with other medications as well. Remember that it is always important to follow the doctor’s medication instructions to the letter, and to consult your doctor before stopping a course of medication earlier than prescribed.

For more information visit WebMD



    To make a comment, please register or login
    Yup I Know
    28th Sep 2017
    O my. I had no idea doctor's still write prescriptions by hand. Now what Century are we in?
    29th Sep 2017
    Home doctors don't carry computers and printers with them and every now and again a doctor visiting a retirement village may run out of the forms they use for printers.
    28th Sep 2017
    Anyone still being prescribed Warfarin should ask their doctor why. There are other alternatives now available which do not need the constant blood tests that Warfarin does. Xarelto is one of these. Whenever you are prescribed a new drug any responsible pharmacist should discuss the drug and its effects on you, and also if there is likely to be any reaction to any other drug you may be on. Your doctor should also do the same when prescribing it, if not seriously consider changing them to someone who does.
    1st Oct 2017
    My mother is on Warfin and I looked up about Xarelto but I think it does not sound that good. This is what I found:
    Like other types of blood thinners, Xarelto can cause bleeding. However, antidotes have been developed for other types of blood thinners in case of uncontrolled bleeding. Xarelto has no such antidote. In other words, patients who experience serious bleeding while taking Xarelto are at risk for bleeding to death
    28th Sep 2017
    Most doctors these days have computers and printers so there's no mix up in the prescriptions. The only people who still hand write prescriptions these days are dentists.
    The pom
    28th Sep 2017
    Some specialists only write a few prescriptions, so don't bother with computer generated precriptions
    28th Sep 2017
    Arbee, I am still on Warfarin due to the likelihood of Xarelto having an adverse effect on my Kidney's. And I have a stable history with Warfarin
    28th Sep 2017
    nearly all doctors have all of your medicines are online via their computer. any good doctor or specialist will do a review of all of your medicines regularly.
    28th Sep 2017
    I had 3 stents inserted earlier this year, this was after 2 heart attacks in February, I was immediately put on several different medications, some were blood thinners, I was also put on a statin even though my colestral was ok, with the blood thinners I was leaking blood almost daily, I became the most concerned when I started getting blood in my eyes, it's only this week that the specialist took me off the clopidogrel, so hopefully that will curb the bleeding, I did ask why I still needed to take the statins even though my colestral was ok, the answer I got was the statins help to prevent build up in my arteries, especially through the stents. I am definitely not complaining, the medical profession saved my life, which I am grateful for. I have full trust in my doctors, but I do ask them why I am on the various medications and so far the reasons they have given me make sense, so I will continue ask and listen to what they say.
    28th Sep 2017
    Dim, unfortunately too many doctors prescribe statins as a preventative medicine rather than for a high cholesterol level. 6 or 7 years ago I was prescribed statins for a medium cholesterol level, then a couple of years later was diagnosed with Inclusive body myositis which is a serious auto immune disease that causes muscle wastage and many other serious things. After going on some group support sites I was shocked to see how many people had contracted the disease after being on statins for a short time. Of course the pharmaceutical companies will always deny there is a link, but the stats show there is. I have the highest regard for most people in the medical profession and some of them have done remarkable things for me, but there will always be some who over prescribe medications that are not always good for you.
    Never be afraid to go online and research other peoples reactions to medications, what they are saying is more likely to be the truth than what a multi billion dollar pharmaceutical company is.
    28th Sep 2017
    I got a prescription fill today, when I got home I discovered the medication was 7 months out of date. Took it back, the chemist apologised and went to replace same only to find the remainder of his stock was also out of date.
    I'll be checking on Use By Dates in future.
    28th Sep 2017
    The key action needed is missing from this article, and that is eternal vigilance over what the pharmacist is doing. We recently had a pharmacist dispense warfarin and Xarelto (both blood thinners) for the same family member at the same time, even though we had specifically only asked for the Xarelto prescription to be filled, and had clearly marked which prescriptions were to be filled. Then another drug, which the doctor had specified was to be take at 6PM, what dispensed by the pharmacist with instructions to be taken at 6AM. Luckily we had read the prescription and remembered the doctor's instructions. While pharmacists are trying to elevate their status in the medical world, unfortunately this is not the first time we have come across mistakes that could have serious consequences, and others that are just annoying to have to rectify eg wrong strength being dispensed. It seems the days of checking being done by someone other than the consumer have long gone. How many of these 'mix ups that could cost your life' are actually caused by the pharmacist without the patient or their family being aware? And with generic medicines, it can be difficult to find out if the correct drug has been dispensed, unless we have written down the prescription and then check against the internet to ensure it is the same active ingredient.
    30th Sep 2017
    Often Drs give out Scripts and have NO idea if they are compatible with others they have given you -- always best to ask the chemist to check it anything you are taking is dangerous together -- I had acute kidney failure due to a Dr giving me 2 meds that were incompatible
    1st Oct 2017
    I think it is always wise to talk to a chemist about medications after all that is what they mainly study, ,more so than doctors.
    1st Oct 2017
    I think it is always wise to talk to a chemist about medications after all that is what they mainly study, ,more so than doctors.
    18th Oct 2017
    Basically, if people keep their weight down, are active, sleep well and drink sufficient water then there would be less people on lobg lists of pharmaceutical drugs!
    As a nurse, I have seen far too many over prescriptions although a lot of it is due to fixing adverse effects from certain drugs.
    I am in my late 60's and still work one shift per fortnight because I like to.
    As a person with normally low blood pressure, I noticed how closely correlated increasing blood pressure was with increasing weight and as soon as I lost weight, my bp also decreased!
    All tests indicated no other causes so keeping one's weight in check is vitally important and parents should not buy sweets, processed foods and fizzy drinks for young kids as treats because they are NOT treats but CHILD ABUSE in that one is inculcating poor eating habits in these young people.
    18th Oct 2017
    I agree Mez, the rate of people being overweight is increasing and is a burden on our health system. We need to stop making the processed food companies richer and support Australian farmers and eat fresh, better for us and better for our economy.

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