Make Sure Your Prescription Drug Doesn't "Spike" Your Holiday Cocktail, Warns

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Data Based Medicines America's website warns revelers about little known drug side effect

Prescription drugs and alcohol

Is your drink spiked?

Even though it’s the alcohol that is typically blamed, it may be the doctor-prescribed, pharmacist-dispensed drug that amplifies and sustains the alcohol level, which can result in impaired driving charges, a car crash or even the loss of your job, the first free independent website for researching and reporting prescription drug side effects, issued a holiday caution today on the use of alcohol and prescription drugs.

Did you know that combining an FDA-approved prescription drug with alcohol can put you over the legal limit even though you've only had one drink?

“Even though it’s the alcohol that is typically blamed, it may be the doctor-prescribed, pharmacist-dispensed drug that amplifies and sustains the alcohol level, which can result in impaired driving charges, a car crash or even the loss of your job,” says website founder Dr. David Healy.

But, officer, I only had one beer…
We all know that our sex, body type, weight, food intake, and genetic makeup can impact our ability to metabolize alcohol and our Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) level after a standard drink.
But what if that standard drink is paired with a prescription drug?

“With many drugs there’s a good chance the level of intoxication you feel doesn’t line up with the amount of alcohol you’ve consumed,” says Healy. “Which points to the fact that these drugs can have a profound impact on your body’s ability to metabolize alcohol.”

Petra's Story
Consider the case of Petra in Australia who was on an antidepressant. Suspecting that Petra’s drugs were “spiking” her drinks, her father purchased an alcometer (breathalyzer) apparatus. Several tests revealed readings of 0.04 per 375 ml of beer (containing approximately 18 ml of alcohol), which is more than one-and-a-half times the level one would expect. (See original article Petra’s story submitted to Dr. Healy's blog on 17 February 2012)

That was the first problem.

The second was that the reading didn’t decrease at the expected rate of 0.02 per hour, and her BAC consistently showed 0.08 for two beers and 0.12 for three beers consumed over two to three hours.

Petra’s father, friends, and brother all had much lower readings. Petra’s father also tested his device against a police roadside check and obtained the same results.

“Her blood alcohol levels were a shock,” says Petra’s father. “Later, when Petra was off the antidepressant, we ran the tests again with the same device and her scores changed dramatically and were close to mine, her friends’, and her brothers.”

Missing data
Dr. Dee Mangin, Data Based Medicine’s Chief Medical Officer and a professor and Director of Research in the Department of Public Health and General Practice at the University of Otago in New Zealand, says “unfortunately, this is not an area that pharmaceutical companies look at during controlled drug trials.”

There may be no warning whatsoever on the manufacturer’s literature that accompanies your prescription, she says. “This is because the data is simply not available. “

“Stories like Petra’s are often not considered ‘credible’ or are misattributed to alcohol, which means that doctors, lawyers, and judges do not recognize the link between prescription drugs and alcohol,” says Healy.

“Our mission with RxISK is to build a collective pool of wisdom and make this data available to everyone for the purposes of identifying problems as well as solutions. We need you to report your experience.“

RxISK — your megaphone to help change drug safety allows users to enter the name of a prescription drug and see the side effects that have been reported to the FDA’s MedWatch System since 2004, as well as to RxISK, for more than 35,000 drug names from 103 countries. The data is presented in tables, tag clouds, heat maps, and interactive graphs, showing what’s happening with other people taking the same drug around the world and in a user’s community.

Users can then select the effect(s) they are experiencing and click on Report a Drug Side Effect to complete a report. This will add their anonymized experience to the RxISK database so that others can benefit from this information, as well as provide reporters with a personalized RxISK Report linking their symptoms and meds, which they can take to their doctor or pharmacist to facilitate a better treatment conversation.

About Data Based Medicine Americas Ltd. is owned and operated by Data Based Medicine Americas Ltd. (DBM), based in Toronto, Canada. DBM's founders have international reputations in early drug-side-effect detection and risk mitigation, pharmacovigilance, and patient-centered care. Although drug side effects are known to be a leading cause of death and disability, less than 5% of serious drug side effects are reported. DBM’s mission is to capture this missing data directly from patients through’s free drug side effect reporting tool and use this data to help make medicines safer for all of us.

Media contact
David Carmichael
+1 (647) 799-3792

Related stories from Dr. David Healy’s blog

  • Every drink spiked (17 May 2012)
  • Out of my mind driven to drink (15 March 2012)
  • Petra’s story (17 February 2012)

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David Carmichael
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