Health & Wellness

Prescription Drug Dangers and How to Keep Employees Safe

By Judith Mewhort on August, 16 2018
7 minute read

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What's in your medicine cabinet?

Modern healthcare goes hand in hand with pharmaceuticals. You can bet many of your employees are taking at least one prescription drug.

The right drugs can be life-changing, but only if taken properly. Did you know drugs can interact dangerously with certain foods, supplements, and other drugs? 

In this blog, we’ll share the dangerous prescription drug interactions you need to look out for, how to reduce your team’s reliance on medications, and, ultimately, how to reduce the cost of your benefits plan.


What are the Most Common Prescription Drug Interactions?

Listed below are frequently occuring drug interactions. Remind employees to check with their physician or pharmacist about their specific circumstances.


Drug–Drug Interactions

Taking more than one prescription drug is a tipping point. The risk of adverse reaction increases with each additional drug.

The numbers are bracing:

  • taking two medications poses a 15% risk;
  • taking five poses a 40% risk; and
  • taking seven medications poses an 80% risk. 

Interaction risks are wide-ranging, for example, drowsiness, rapid heartbeat, blood pressure changes, bleeding, and diarrhea. 

At worst, taking the wrong drugs together can cause death.

Does everyone experience the same drug–drug interactions? No, people react differently based on genetics, age, lifestyle, other medical conditions, and the length of time the drugs are taken.

Tip: To clear up any uncertainty, point employees to these online drug interaction checkers:


Drug–Food Interactions

Did you know that your favorite breakfast drink could affect a drug's efficacy? Many common foods and drinks, such as grapefruit juice and milk, interact with prescription drugs. 

Grapefruit juice contains compounds called furanocoumarins that can either increase or decrease absorption of some commonly prescribed drugs, including:

  • statins to reduce cholesterol
  • corticosteroids for Crohn's disease, and
  • antihistamines such as Allegra. 

Dairy products can reduce the absorption of some classes of antibiotics, such as tetracyclines. Note, however, that other types of antibiotics are unaffected. 

Alcohol should never be taken with acetaminophen (Tylenol). Mixing the two can cause major liver damage. While consuming only small amounts of each can be fine, why risk serious harm?

Caffeine is a daily necessity for many workers, but it can affect medications used for asthma, high blood pressure, and anxiety. In addition to causing tremors and increased heart rate, caffeine can also make these medications less effective. 

Leafy green and cruciferous vegetables, including kale, spinach, and broccoli, are considered "superfoods." Unfortunately, the vitamin K in these greens reduces the ability of blood thinners, such as Warfarin, from preventing clots.


Drug–Supplement Interactions

Taking supplements can be a smart step toward wellness. But some supplements don't work with prescription drugs.

St. John’s Wort should not be taken with antidepressants. Mixing the two can cause “serotonin syndrome," in which too much serotonin builds up in the body. This condition is potentially fatal. 

Some plant-based supplements can affect blood clot medications, such as Warfarin. These  include:

  • St. John’s Wort
  • Ginseng
  • Ginko
  • Bilboa
  • Garlic.

They can either increase or decrease concentration of the drug in the body.

Calcium supplements can reduce the effectiveness of:

  • calcium channel blockers
  • thyroid meds, and
  • some antibiotics.

Ironically, while calcium is taken for bone health, it can negatively affect osteoporosis drugs.

(Related post: How to Support Employees With Chronic Illness)


How Does Wellness Reduce the Need for Prescription Drugs?

Preventing drug interactions is definitely key to supporting your team's health. But could your people avoid the need for such drugs in the first place?

Actually, dependence on prescription drugs can often be reduced with lifestyle changes.

For example, those at risk for adult onset diabetes might prevent the full-blown disease through diet and exercise. Those with mild mood disorders might avoid antidepressants with talk therapy. See Medstopper for information on safely stopping medications.

(Related post: How Can Employers Manage Depression in the Workplace?)

To introduce an increased focus on wellness to your team, you can implement:

An employee benefits advisor can help you set up these programs to ensure optimal success and employee engagement.


How a Focus on Wellness Can Improve Your Bottom Line

Prescription drug costs will continue to skyrocket, especially with “biologics," cutting-edge drugs involving living microorganisms. Biologics are commonly used to treat a host of conditions, including:

  • Cancer
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Diabetes
  • Heart attacks
  • Crohn’s disease

Unfortunately, biologic drugs are far more expensive than conventional drugs due to their complex manufacturing processes and fragile raw materials.

So how can you minimize a big hit from prescription drug coverage? Focus on wellness. If employees are filling fewer prescriptions, the drug portion of your benefit plan costs will drop. 

So not only will an increased focus on wellness give you a healthier, more productive workforce, you’ll save money, too. 


Final Thoughts

Since many people are taking at least one prescription drug, educating your employees on drug interactions is essential in maintaining a healthy, thriving workforce. Once they’re aware of the dangers, you can implement a long-term wellness strategy to help reduce medication reliance.

The result will be safe, healthy employees, and a stronger bottom line.


Next Step: 

Download our guide below. It will help you understand your benefit plan’s prescription drug costs, and also details our best strategies to reduce them. 

Prescription For A Healthy Benefits Plan: Manage Rising Drug Costs

Download our guide to learn how to better manage rising drug costs and find better cost-saving opportunities to mitigate risks in your benefits plan.


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