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By Amina Abdul Salam

People take a number of drugs for their health problems and it is almost certain that all useful drugs will produce unwanted effects. In addition to the excessive pharmacological impact of the drug due to overdosing or prolonged use, drugs can be toxic and sometimes kill.

Drug toxicity is due to a dose of medicine the patient’s body can not bear. Any dose prescribed to a patient is calculated according to the patient's age, weight and the disease he has, according to Dr Mayssa Shawki, Professor of Public Health and Preventive Medicine, Cairo University.

This is how the dose is calculated for him. But if the patient takes an overdose of the drug or uses it constantly it can have a negative impact on his liver or kidney and his body in general. In this case, the drug becomes toxic.

Dr Shawki said that there was a category of patients who may suffer from liver or renal failure or both. In that case, the usual dose of medicine could harm them.
Therefore the dose must be adjusted to suit their state of health.

There are also patients who take medicines constantly without a doctor checking on them. They may have recovered completely from whatever they were suffering from and didn’t need to take the medicine. In such a case, the drug may have become toxic for them.

Dr Shawki stressed the importance of people who take medicines visiting their doctor once a month to know if they should continue to take the medicine or stop taking it. For example, there is a phenomenon known as polypharmacy. It is particularly widespread among elderly people.

It is the use of several medicines concurrently by an individual. But when the medicines are used unnecessarily, polypharmacy can have adverse effects, especially on elderly people. Some people take medicines without the instructions of a doctor.

These medicine can be toxic for them. They can also be the cause of suicide, Dr Shawki said, stressing once again that every dose of any drug is prescribed to the patient according to his or her age, weight and the disease involved.

She pointed out that obesity is a major health problem in Egypt and is the main factor in many chronic diseases such as hypertension, heart disease and cancer. There are, she said, unlicensed drugs on sale at some doctors’ clinics, or, perhaps, smuggled from abroad to overcome obesity.

These medicines are a major danger for patients with hypertension or cardiac disease or diabetes who want to get rid of their obesity.

To help combat the illegal production and use of drugs, Dr Shawki recommended that care should be taken in disposing of unwanted or out-of-date medicines and their packaging.

The medicines themselves and their packaging – bottles, boxes, wrappings and labels – should be destroyed before being thrown away with the rest of the household garbage so that they cannot be reused. She also stressed the importance of keeping medicines out of the reach of children.