“Medicines can heal; medicines can kill.”
By Penelope A. Domogo, MD
“Medicines can heal; medicines can kill” is a quote from the famous Dr. David Werner, author of the book WHERE THERE IS NO DOCTOR. This book was our bible in the 1980s when we had intensive trainings for volunteer barangay health workers in Bontoc. This book emphasized the dangers of just taking synthetic medicines. When we say synthetic medicines, we mean the tablets, capsules, syrups, injectables, etc. that are most often prescribed by doctors or which you can even buy over the counter. We also call these western medicines kasi that it where these things originated. These are what we refer as “medicines” for this issue as September is Generics Awareness Month.
In the 1980s, the Department of Health was saying that there are only about 200 medicines that are considered essential, meaning, necessary. And yet there were more than 200 medicines in the market at that time. In 2018, the World Health Organization came out with a new list of essential medicines- it has increased to 460! Tell me, is this an indication of improved quality of life that the United Nations and governments have been working for all these years! This means deterioration of life! Our goal should be making medicines irrelevant, because that would mean people are healthy. If people are healthy, then they have quality life.
I am worried about this manufacture of additional synthetic medicines in the market. Kung kami ngang mga doctor would be hard up in reaclling names of 200 medicines, getting to know their functions, what are they for, what are their contraindications, etc., what more of other people who didn’t attend pharmacology classes? Further, these 460 medicines are generic names, meaning there could be a hundred brands of one medicine. That gives you 46,000 medicines to deal with. Scary! As Dr. Werner said, “medicines can heal, medicines can kill.” If used properly, they can help but used irrationally and inappropriately, they can cause unnecessary harm or death to the user. There is no absolutely safe synthetic drug. Every drug has its own risk, including vitamins. So it is important you discuss your treatment with your doctor because at this age of information technology, there are many ways to healing, not just western medicine. There is prayer, traditional indigenous medicine, traditional Chinese medicine, homeopathy, aromatherapy, use of essential oils, therapeutic massage, etc, or a combination of these. Let us not limit God’s grace. So if you decide to take synthetic medicine, then you should first know the following basic information about that medicine:
1) GENERIC NAME – this is the international name that wherever you go, it is the same, whether you are in the Philippine or Timbuktu. This is very important especially for those consulting varied doctors. Ask your doctor or whoever is prescribing your medicine what is written in the prescription pad if you can’t read it. Don’t be shy. Ask also the pharmacist or other health worker where the generic name is written on the medicine label. There are patients who tell me that their medicine is colored red or yellow and expect me to know what it is. Malay ko. Colors don’t identify the medicine because it is the manufacturer who chooses which color.
2) INDICATION – Ask your doctor or the nurse or midwife what the medicine is for. How does it treat your disease? Is it an antibiotic? How does an antibiotic work? Will it just lower your fever (antipyretic)? Is it a painkiller? Etc.
3) FORMULATION – is your medicine in a capsule? Tablet? Ointment? Powder form? Syrup? If it is in powder form and you have to dilute it, ask how you will do it.
4) ROUTE OF ADMINISTRATION – are you going to take the medicine by mouth or is it to be rubbed on your skin? Or some other way? Take note that there are vaginal tablets so a tablet does not always mean it is to be swallowed.
5) DOSE – how much of the medicine will you take or apply? If the prescribed dose is 500 mg, then take 500 mg, because that is the dose that has been experimented to be effective.
6) DOSAGE STRENGTH – see how much of the medicine that the capsule or tablet contain. Many medicines are packed in varied strengths – some come in packages of 125 mg, 250 mg and 500 mg. So make sure you are buying the correct dosage strength written in your prescription.
7) DOSAGE INTERVAL – will you take the medicine every 8 hours or only when necessary? Or once a day? This dosage interval is based on the half-life of the medicine in our body. Intervals are determined by drug researches on the optimum level of the medicine in your blood to be effective and at the same time safe.
8) REQUIREMENTS FOR INTAKE – you need to know if you are to take the medicine with meals or an empty stomach. Antibiotics usually are be taken on an empty stomach for better absorption and painkillers are taken after eating. Vitamins and minerals are taken with meals because they are supposed to be supplements- they work only when taken in with the other innumerable substances in natural food.
9) CONTRAINDICATIONS – these are conditions which may be adversely affected by the medicine. Example is pregnancy – a lot of medicines are contraindicated in pregnant women as they may damage the unborn child. So always tell your health adviser if you are pregnant or are suffering from other ailments or taking in some medicines.
10) POSSIBLE SIDE EFFECTS – as stated earlier, there is no absolutely safe drug. All drugs have possible side effects although not all people taking that mmedicine will experience side effects. These vary depending on your medicine so you should be aware of these.
11. EXPIRATION DATE – All medicines have expiry dates so always check the label. If there is no expiry date, throw it away (properly). There is no grace period for expiration- don’t use the medicine beyond the expiry date. Expired drugs can do more damage to your health. More next issue.***
“And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven.” James 5:15