Friday 26 April 2013


Pills and prescriptions are a funny thing.  Think about it: I give you a piece of paper with some indecipherable chicken-scratch on it, you present this paper to a pharmacist, and this poor pharmacist tries to decode my illegible handwriting.  Fifteen minutes later you are magically presented with a bottle full of some possibly-toxic chemical in pill, tablet, powder, capsule, caplet, or liquid form that will cure your ailment, whatever it may be, hopefully without causing diarrhoea, constipation, nausea, headache, insomnia, drowsiness, bleeding from the eyes, bubonic plague, cat scratch fever, malaria, insanity, or outright killing you.

Ok, so maybe "funny" wasn't exactly the right term.  "Incredibly dangerous" seems much more appropriate.  Most people, I'm sure, don't understand just how dangerous some of these medicines can be.

Consider, if you will, this silly little fairy tale.  Many years ago chemists were looking for a way to combat a very nasty rodent problem.  No, they didn't hire the Pied Piper.  Instead, they formulate a new kind of pesticide to kill rats and mice.  The idea is that the rodents eat so much of the poison, which turns out to be a very potent blood thinner, that they bleed to death internally.  Now since it was so effective at killing rodents, some genius later evidently thought, "Hey, this poison could also be used as a blood thinner in humans as a medicine!  BRILLIANT!"

Sounds like some ridiculous horror story, right?

That's the very real rat poison on top and the just-as-real human medicine on the bottom.  Same stuff.  It's the EXACT SAME STUFF.  Still sound ridiculous?  Warfarin, one of the most commonly prescribed blood thinners in the world, is used to treat blood clots in humans.  And I've seen some people bleed to death from an accidental overdose.  In fact, the Federal Drug Administration in the US estimates that 15% of all major adverse effects are caused by warfarin alone.  Think about that for a second - if  you collect all the major side effects of all drugs on the market worldwide, 1 in 6 is due to this one drug.

Fortunately most other medicines (other than chemotherapy agents) weren't designed to be poisonous, but they still can have bad side effects.  People don't seem to think about that, though.  Did your doctor talk to you about the potential side effects of that medicine he just illegibly wrote for you?  Did your pharmacist talk to you about them as he handed the medicine bottle to you?  Shouldn't they have?

Did you bother to look up the drug online before you took the first one?  Shouldn't you?


  1. This really hits home for me right now - my mom has been on warfarin for years after having a DVT, and she ended up in the ER a few weeks ago because her pharmacist screwed up the dosage on her prescription. :( Luckily the mistake was found in time but she had to get a blood transfusion.

  2. Your physician has Deemed that the benefits of this medication outweigh any possible side effects, or so the package information tells me.

  3. My brother has been on Warfarin for almost 30 years. He started after he had an artificial aortic valve placed. Because of the dangers of warfarin be has to get blood work every single week for the rest of his life to make sure the medicine won't make him either bleed to death like a rat or cause him to have a blood clot. It seems crazy that just the right level of poison will keep you alive and well.

  4. I think doctors like to push drugs a little too much. My grandmother (who recently passed, may she rest in peace) was on blood thinners and blood thickeners. At the same time. And she was a pretty good self-advocate, as was everyone who took her to her appointments. She brought it up with the doctor and he just brushed it off. A few months later, she switched doctors. Her new doc immediately took her off Warfarin and the other drug which I cannot remember the name of, saying something along the lines of "Was your doctor an idiot?" After she was off the competing medications, her headaches, dizziness and nausea went away. Now I understand that she originally needed the blood thinner because she had had several strokes and they were worried about another stroke. But when her blood started to get too thin, wouldn't it have made more sense to adjust her Warfarin dosage instead of adding a new medication? Doc, is there a reason why she would need to be on both?

  5. Shit, That ain't cool...How the hell did that even get approved?!

  6. So if you can't afford your prescription you could just purchase rat poison? Interesting…

  7. My mom takes Warfarin...

  8. Hi, doc! I read your blog regularly, although I don't usually comment. I actually started reading because I use the fml app and thought some of your comments were funny, so I checked out your profile and started reading your blog.

    Anyway! I decided to comment today because my mother takes this and has taken it for years. She was rushed to the hospital with chest pains, believing she was having a heart attack, and found out she had a blood clot in her lung. This medicine screwed her up in more ways than one before she was finally taken off it and put on something else. Because of this I've always thought poorly of this drug but I didn't know it was originally used as rat poison. Good to know and I sent the link for your blog to my mom.

    Have a great weekend!

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