By Bill Tricarico
Sr. Risk Management Consultant
McNeil & Company
It’s February and in most of the country that means cold weather which brings the flu, colds, and other things which make us feel lousy. It also increases the chance of slips and falls which result in aches and pains. Any of these can lead us to the over the counter drugs section of our local pharmacist, supermarket, or big box store.
I stopped there myself last week and began to read some of the labels and the warnings were downright scary. Besides the health danger side effects some drugs may pose I kept reading things such as, “may cause drowsiness” or “use caution when driving” or the infamous “do not operate heavy machinery.” The US Food and Drug Ad-ministration (FDA) does oversee OTC drugs to ensure that they are properly labeled and that their benefits outweigh their risks; however, products on the market today can still be dangerous when taken before performing certain tasks such as driving a motor vehicle. And yet how many people figure that if you can simply buy them off the shelf how dangerous can they be?
Actually these medications could pose a significant danger. The combination of such meds could not only be dangerous to your health but also could affect your ability to reason and react as you normally would. Many of the products available to treat cold symptoms, coughs, allergy symptoms, travel sickness, and pain contain substances that may have a significant impact on driving or work performance. These effects may occur shortly after ingestion, last for several hours, and may even cause significant “hangover” effects the next day. Today’s “Multi-Symptom” cold, flu, and pain relievers can contain an antihistamine, a decongestant and a pain reliever in a single product compounding the danger!
Some new studies have shown just how risky these drugs can be. Some of the findings have actually shown that many allergy medications we rely on each year to help us manage through a day can be worse than alcohol. At least after a few drinks you will feel the effects. With certain medications however you may never even realize you are in any sort of peril. Yet, motor skills are dulled and reaction times are distort-ed, even though you still feel comparatively chipper. The next thing you know the world starts spinning, things get just a bit too blurry.
Think about all of the things you do during an average day. Your ability to think clearly and react properly allows you to perform your job properly. So be certain to understand the dangers. Don’t simply rely on what’s on the label, especially when taking more than one drug. Ask your doctor or pharmacist about all the medicines you take and what dangers they may pose or if there are alternatives which may have less of a side effect.
As a first responder everything you do is critical and the situations you encounter could be life threatening. You wouldn’t do these things if you were drunk, yet taking OTC drugs without understanding the dangers could be worse. Be educated and be safe.