The CHALLENGE of DOING DRUG RESEARCH ONLINE
One would think, in the age of Google and Yahoo, doing research on your prescription or OTC (over the counter) medication would be simple. Just punch in your drug name...and TADA...up pops the most useful, relevant and accurate information about your particular pill. Oh if only that were the case....
The truth is that internet information is a two-edged sword. On the one hand we probably have access to MORE GOOD information than ever before. But on the other hand we also have access to an overwhelming amount of BAD and IRRELEVANT information as well. How do you know who to trust? And how do you know where to begin? What websites are reliable and user-friendly for the average Jane or Joe who wants to know more about their medications? I'm going to tell you!
The purpose of this article is to direct you to what are, in my opinion, some of the most helpful websites when it comes to researching your medication. As a pharmacist, and one who personally enjoys digging in and researching what I can discover about drugs and diseases, I have discovered that all drug-information websites are NOT created equal.
What makes for a GOOD (in my opinion) website for looking up drug information?
1) Accuracy: The information HAS to be correct. False or misleading claims, opinions parading around as facts, or outdated information and data that looks like it was written orininally on stone tablets simply is not good enough. Now, even the best sites will sometimes have mistakes. Humans, after all, are probably involved in the process somewhere! But a good drug research website should have consistently accurate information for us to rely on.
2) Clarity: Many websites suffer from what has been called, in psychology circles, the "Curse of Knowledge." Basically, they are written by people who live and breathe drug information, and have therefore utterly lost the ability to communicate to "normal" everyday folks. They use terminology that is unfamiliar, and don't even realise this is the case. For a drug information website to be "good" it must communicate the information clearly.
3) Easy to use: A website that is so cluttered with commercial information that you cannot even find the "search" box is a waste of your valuable time. A website that has frequent annoying features, requires registration, moves too slowly, costs money or is just plain hard to use will cause you more grief than it is worth. I like to go to websites that allow me to quickly and easily access the information I want, when I want it, and how I want it. Thankfully there are some websites out there that do just that!
I should also mention that such websites that provide "Good" information for researching your medication can be found FREE OF CHARGE on the internet. You have heard the saying "You get what you pay for" and it is typically true. But for doing drug research there are many very fine websites which are already funded either by advertising sales, or through government-funded channels. You don't NEED to pay money out of your pocket to get good, reliable drug information on the internet. You just have to know where to look. And I am going to tell you!
Pharmacy News & Views
BUT DON'T ALL PRESCRIPTIONS COME WITH INFORMATION?
Yes. Every time you fill a prescription medication it should come with a leaflet which provides some important information. You should read this. But there are many good reasons why you might want to do some more research on your prescription:
- Pharmacy leaflets rarely tell you what other strengths your medication comes in
- Pharmacy leaflets only list the most common side effects, uses, and drug interactions
- Pharmacy leaflets are often "general" and not specifically taylored to your exact medication
- Pharmacy leaflets are designed to be BRIEF, and often do not provide enough details to answer all the questions you may have.
So...are you ready to dig in and find out more information about your prescription? Here we go!!
SITE #1: FDA APPOVED DRUGS WEBSITE
The first place I recommend checking out is the FDA Website Databse for Prescription Drugs:
This database, maintained by the FDA, provides a few very basic (but often important) pieces of information about your prescription drug. Note, this is for prescription drugs only. I will provide you with other websites that have data on non-prescription drugs.
What can you find out from this site?
- What strengths and dosage forms (capsules, tablets, injection, etc) does my prescription come in? Maybe you are wondering if your medicine comes in a higher or lower dosage. This site will show you.
- Who makes my medication? Knowing the manufacturer is often a key to finding out more information about the drug. You could, if you wanted, now search for the manufacturer's website from a tradition search engine like Google or Yahoo.
- What is the generic name of my medication? See the column that says "active ingredient?" That is, generally, the generic name of your medication.
- By typing in a generic name, this site will show you a list of all the brand name drugs that correspond to that generic name. Not all will currently be available, as some will be described as "discontinued."
- Label information - Most drugs will have a link to the "label information." This is what is commonly called the "package insert." It is a very detailed description of the drug, studies, kinetics, side effects, etc.
- Patient Medication Guide - If available, this link will be a very useful overview of the drug you are researching.
See the picture below in which I have indicated where to look on the screen for the most important information this website provides. In this example I looked up the drug "Abilify" and this site shows me that 1) It comes in 46different strengths and 2) that it comes in tablets and 3) the manufactuer 4) Label information link 5) Medication Guide link.
SITE #2: MEDLINE PLUS
The next site I recommend checking out for more detailed information about your prescription or non-prescription drug is the site known as MEDLINE PLUS. This site is a cooperative effort of the National Library of Medicine and the National Institute of Health, as well as other government agencies. The site does not allow advertising, and is very user-friendly. Access the site by clicking here:
This site will be useful primarily for accurate information about taking your medication safely and effectively.
From the above link, simply select the first letter of the name of the drug you are researching, and then scroll down to find it. If you look it up by the brand name, it will direct you to the correct generic name under which the information is organized. IT IS EASY! For "herbal" products, this site offers an extensive database of information with helpful chart to document the amount of scientific evidence available to confirm the effectiveness for the given herbal product.
Below you will see a list of all the information that is available to you from this site for every medication.
- Why is this medication prescribed?
- How should this medicine be used?
- Other uses for this medicine
- What special precautions should I follow?
- What special dietary instructions should I follow?
- What should I do if I forget a dose?
- What side effects can this medication cause?
- What storage conditions are needed for this medicine?
- In case of emergency/overdose
- What other information should I know?
- Brand names
- Brand names of combination products
SITE #3: DRUG INTERACTIONS CHECKER
A frequent concern today is the growing number of drug interactions. Sometimes these interactions can be dangerous, even fatal. Researching your prescription medication might involve checking for possible interaction with other prescriptions, OTC drugs or herbal supplements that you take. A very good drug interaction checker is available free at this site:
This is a commercial website and it does have advertisements. It is, however, very easy to use, extensive and accurate, and allows you to check for interactions with prescription and non-prescription medications.
Another very good site for Drug Interactions checking is:
Note, you have to register for this site. But it is FREE!! And it has tons of great information on drugs and interactions
SITE #4: WIKIPEDIA!! DOES THAT SHOCK YOU?
The fourth website that I recommend is, believe it or not, wikipedia. I have personally used this website countless times to look up some specific details about a drug, its history, or its family.
Access wikipedia by clicking here: http://www.wikipedia.org/
Why use this site? The one thing wikipedia often provides, which is VERY hard to get elsewhere, is information about "family" or "class" that a particular drug belongs to. For example, if your doctor just prescribed for you a drug called "Teveten" for blood pressure control, you may be wondering if there are other "similar" products that he/she COULD have prescribed instead. How would you find out?
Just type "Teveten" into the Wikipedia search box, and you are immediately brought to the article about this particular drug/ingredient. On this page you see this very helpful sentence beginnnig the article which says "Eprosartan is an angiotensin II receptor antagonist used for the treatment of high blood pressure." The words "angiotensin II receptor antagonist" are a link to another article on this whole class of medications! There you will find, upon reading the article, all the other currently available drugs in this class.
First Page of a "Prescribing Information" Document
SITE #5: FIND THE PRESCRIBING INFORMATION LITERATURE
Okay, by this point you have collected a lot of information. There is just one more method of researching your drug that I would like to make you aware of, and it is the nifty little document known as the "prescribing information" for a prescription drug. This document is also often called the "package insert." Every prescription drug dispensed in a pharmacy has one of these, often attached to each and every bottle. These are somewhat lengthy, often technical, pieces of literature that the manufacturer MUST prepare for every prescription drug they make.
To find this piece of information, which is often available as a "pdf" document that you can download or view online, I recommend you go to GOOGLE and type in the following, where "x" is the name of your drug:
"X prescribing information"
For example, to find the prescribing information on a prescription drug called Actos, simply type in "Actos prescribing information." Presto. I just did this. The picture just above shows the search results. The first site listed is the actual manufacturer website for Actos, and the second site listed would bring you directly to the "full prescribing information."
What can you do with the prescribing information document? MANY THINGS! This document is divided into "sections." Let me explain a few of them that might be interesting:
- Mechanism of Action: This section is a brief technical description of how the medication is believed to work.
- Drug-Drug Interactions: This section tells, yep, you guessed it, all of the relevant drug interactions with the product.
- Clinical Studies: Does it really work? Here is a brief review of the studies that were done to prove that this medication did, in fact, prove to be more effective than a placebo.
- Indications and Usage: This section tells you what condition(s) your drug is actually approved to be used for. Some drugs will be used for conditions not listed here, known as "off label" uses. There is nothing wrong with this, but such uses just have not yet been fully documented and approved as of you.
- Contraindications: This section describes circumstances when this drug should NOT be used.
- Warnings: These are things to watch out for when taking this drug.
- Precautions: Not as strong as "warnings" but worth watching out for also.
- Information for Patients: Yep...that section is written just for you!
- Pregnancy: This section identifies if a person should not become pregnant while using this medication due to the effects it may have on a developing baby.
- Adverse Reactions: This sections has the "side effects" which have been reported, and here you can discover the actual "percentage" of patients experiencing specific side effects.
- Dosage and Administration: How the medication is supposed to be taken.
Well, I hope that this list convinces you that the "prescribing information" can be very useful when researching your prescription drug. These are not typically available for non-prescription medications.
MADE A GOOD START!
If you use each of the 5 methods and websites listed in this article, you will have gone a FAR WAY into doing some very serious and valuable research on your prescription or non-prescription medication. Are there more sites? Of course. Millions probably. Many of which are very good. Feel free to mention any that you have found especially helpful!
Liam A Ryan from Ireland on August 12, 2019:
Katrina Gerdes on January 09, 2019:
Thank you so much for this information. I believe that my medications are causing a number of side effects and will talk it over with my Dr. I just hope she can take me off of the ones I am taking and give me some that won't cause them. That is the big question? Or help me find a way to not have to take them.
Jason Poquette (author) from Whitinsville, MA on February 23, 2011:
Glad I could help! Yes, it is a good idea to check your meds for interactions. Even the best pharmacies will make mistakes, so it is always good to do some of your own research also. Best wishes!
Kim Harris on February 22, 2011:
I've never heard of that drug interaction checker site. That could be really helpful. I have to get my prescriptions by mail now and really miss just talking to the pharmacist when I pick up a prescription. I like how you organized and presented this info, pharmacist. It's really a handy resource. Thanks.
Mary on February 02, 2011:
Can u prescribe drug 4 some one with cough
Jason Poquette (author) from Whitinsville, MA on May 26, 2010:
Thanks for looking it over! Glad it may prove useful. Best wishes!
Linda Todd from Charleston on May 26, 2010:
Well, I am so glad that I found this. This is great information and so well explained. I can see that you have a lot of great information to share. Thank you.
Jason Poquette (author) from Whitinsville, MA on May 14, 2010:
Thanks for reading and for the kind words. Glad the information is useful! Best wishes from New England!
mquee from Columbia, SC on May 13, 2010:
Pharmacist, you have imparted some useful information here. I like the point about clarity and the section on interactions. Thanks
Jason Poquette (author) from Whitinsville, MA on May 10, 2010:
Thanks Pamela99! I appreciate that!
Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on May 10, 2010:
Excellent hub with some great information. I didn't know about the FDA site and I would never have thought of using Wikipedia. Thumbs up!
Jason Poquette (author) from Whitinsville, MA on May 05, 2010:
Thanks Rochelle! You are blessed to be medication-free!! Appreciate your comments always!
Rochelle Frank from California Gold Country on May 05, 2010:
I have only scanned through this, but I can see it is well organized and presents practical information. I don't take any prescribed medication and rarely OTCs, but I and most of us, have others who are close to us who sometimes need some help. Being informed is important.
I appreciate your thoughts about us having a lot of information-- both good and bad.