10 Tips for Using Painkillers Safely

Recent events show the danger of drug cocktails. Here's how to protect yourself

February 9, 2009, 3:29 PM

Feb. 7, 2008— -- Take two pills and call me in the morning.

That's what family doctors may have told us at one time, but the tragic deaths of high-profile stars in recent years highlight just how far beyond that simple prescription medication has moved.

"We've seen a significant increase in these types of drugs in the deaths of people," said Bruce Goldberger, director of the William R. Maples Center for Forensic Medicine at the University of Florida. "It's a very common occurrence."

And it could be getting more common.

Each year drug companies put new medications in doctors' offices. On their own, these drugs can cure illness and alleviate pain, but together they can make deadly cocktails.

So if you're taking prescription drugs, here are some important guidelines to follow to avoid tragedy.

"People need to understand that the more they are taking different medications for a single indication, the more they need to be carefully supervised," said Dr. Vatsal Thakkar, clinical assistant professor of psychiatry at New York University Medical Center.

In this case, it is important for both you and your doctors to share information about medicines you take.

"Two people can take exactly the same number and combination of drugs," said Dr. Donna Seger, medical director of the Tennessee Poison Center at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. "One person may be a bit sleepy, and the other may be in a coma."

How drugs react in the body varies from person to person. Medications are prescribed to specific individuals. Taking drugs intended for others, or offering someone drugs meant for you, could have lethal consequences.