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Drugs: How To Choose Which Drugs To Take


Choosing the wrong drug (medication) may mean that it doesn't do what you hope it will, that it could harm you, and/or that you waste time and money. Choosing the drug that best fits your needs and lifestyle may not only be good for your health and pocket book, it can also lead to greater compliance (taking the drug as directed.)

When choosing whether to take a drug (including over-the-counter drugs and drugs prescribed in a hospital), herb or supplement, it is advisable to take the following steps:

Step 1. Learn enough so that you make a decision as an informed consumer. 

The medical profession calls this "Informed Consent". Informed Consent. goes beyond knowing the risks and rewards of a particular drug. It's everything you need to know to make an educated decision. This step is particularly vital for drugs that have not been on the market for at least five years and drugs that are prescribed for "off label" use -- a use other than the one for which the drug was approved by the federal drug regulator, the FDA. Informed Consent includes learning about:

  • Your health condition (to learn how, click here)
  • The alternatives to the drug and the pros and cons of each alternative.
  • The short and long term effects
  • What is likely to happen if you don't take the drug.

It is easy to get information, even to do research, on your own. Always look at the source of information so you can know if it is objective or biased. For information about how to obtain Information about prescription drugs, click here. To learn how to find information about complementary drugs, click here.  If you prefer, you can hire people to do the research for you. To learn how, click here.

While doing research, consider checking the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) web site to see if there have been complaints about a particular drug you are considering.  Complaints do not necessarily mean you should not take a drug. Some complaints are false alarms. Tell your doctor about the complaints and see what he or she suggests. You'll find the FDA's quarterly reports at: offsite link.  At the bottom of the page, click on Quarterly Reports

NOTE:  With medical marijuana: in addition to the benefits and risks, consider whether it is legal in your state. Also keep in mind that no matter what the state law says, under the federal law possession of marijuana is illegal. To learn about medical marijuana, click here.

Step 2. Determine your priorities.

There is no such thing as one drug fits all. When a doctor or other health care practitioner recommends a drug, decide for yourself whether it works for you based on your own priorities (your preferences and concerns.)

To help determine your priorities, think about the various ways that drugs and/or treatments could impact your life. For example, do you need to keep your mind alert for your job? A list of potential effects, and a method of prioritizing what's important to you, is included in our tool  "Drugs: My Personal Preferences." If you have additional concerns, you can add them to the chart. Rank each of your concerns in order by numbering them 1 - 15 (or more if you insert additional concerns.) When you press the "Reorder Preferences" button, the concerns will be rearranged into the order you care about. 

Once you see the new order, you can continue to renumber until the concerns are in the order you prefer today. You can then print the list and take it with you to the doctor.

Keep in mind that your priorities may change as your situation changes.If your concerns change over time, you can return to your saved chart and reorder priorities.

Communicate your needs and personal preferences to your doctor,  along with anything else you're aware of that could help determine whether a particular drug is right for you.

Step 3. If it is still not  clear which drug is best for you, our Drug Evaluator helps you make an educated decision based on your particular concerns and needs. You can save the results to your Individual Home Page if you want to keep them for future reference

Step 4. Check to be sure there are no negative interactions with any other drug you take, or recently stopped taking, or with your health condition.

To help keep track of your medications, we provide a fill-in-the-blanks list of medications. Click here.

TIP: When you ask a doctor questions about a drug, be sensitive to the fact that he or she may think you are questions his/her expertise or judgment. It is advisable to let the doctor know that you are asking about the medication so that  you can be an informed consumer.  

NOTE: To help avoid medication errors, do your part. To learn how, click here.

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