NEW YORK (MainStreet) -- New data shows that prescription drugs can be hazardous to your health, if you don’t pay attention to the warning labels that come attached to prescription drug vials and containers.
That may seem obvious. After all, it doesn't take a medical degree to know that one shouldn't hop up on a John Deere tractor after taking a codeine-based painkiller or down a bottle of Jack Daniels instead of a glass of water with a pill. Nevertheless, way too many U.S. consumers are oblivious to warning labels, according to a study.
The stakes are high, too. According to the IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics, about four billion prescription drugs were written by medical specialists in 2010, 78% of them for generic drugs.
With so many prescriptions on the market, drug makers need to do a better job of properly labeling -- and highlighting -- warning labels to prevent consumers from misusing those prescription drugs.
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That’s the takeaway from the study by researchers at Kansas State University, that indicates consumers are largely “ignoring” prescription drug warning labels. That’s especially true among older patients, who either won’t or don’t notice prescription drug warning labels, thus putting their health in jeopardy.
The problem is that drug earning labels fail to attract attention, according to chief researcher Nora Bello, a KSU statistics professor.
"These findings have implications for the design of prescription drug warning labels to improve their effectiveness, particularly as the U.S. government recently started to investigate approaches to standardize the format and content of these labels to decrease medication error rates," Bello notes. "Results from this study can provide insight to assist debates about labeling designs that are most likely to impact a wide age range of consumers."
The study notes that approximately 15 million prescription drug medication errors occur annually, with the vast majority of them coming inside the home, as consumers don’t comply with drug advisories. For example, a common mishap is consumers driving after use of a prescription drug, or mixing the drug with alcohol, both of which can be hazardous to a consumer’s health.
Study researchers apply some common sense science in reaching their conclusions, monitoring study participants' eye movements over labels on a prescription drug vial to gauge awareness and attention to drug warning signs.
“In the study, the eye gaze of 50% of participants older than 50 years of age failed to notice a warning label on prescription vials,” the study reports.” For 22% of these participants, their vision did not enter the warning label area in any of the five vials they interacted with. In contrast, 90% of young adults between ages 20 and 29 fixated on the warning labels.
Study researchers are calling for a universal warning label on prescription drug vials that stands out and grabs a consumer’s attention.
Until that happens, do yourself -- or a loved one -- a favor and read the warning label for before taking any prescription drugs, especially these 10 most popular prescription drugs in the U.S., as ranked by IMS data:
- Hydrocodone -- 131.2 million prescriptions
- Generic Zocor (simvastatin), a cholesterol-lowering statin drug -- 94.1 million prescriptions
- Lisinopril, a blood pressure drug -- 87.4 million prescriptions
- Generic Synthroid, a synthetic thyroid hormone -- 70.5 million prescriptions
- Generic Norvasc, an angina/blood pressure drug -- 57.2 million prescriptions
- Generic Prilosec, an antacid drug -- 53.4 million prescriptions (does not include over-the-counter sales)
- Azithromycin, an antibiotic -- 52.6 million prescriptions
- Amoxicillin, an antibiotic -- 52.3 million prescriptions
- Generic Glucophage, a diabetes drug – 48.3 million prescriptions
- Hydrochlorothiazide, a blood pressure drug -- 47.8 million prescriptions.