The Poison Paradox: Chemicals as Friends and Foes

By John Timbrell | Go to book overview

3
Keep Taking the Medicine
There are No Safe Drugs,
Only Safe Ways of Using Them

Drugs are substances that many of us take for granted, at least in the industrialized, affluent West. We expect them to be safe and we get upset if they occasionally cause side effects, especially serious toxic effects. These are called adverse drug reactions. Drugs are the chemicals most commonly used for suicide and often feature in accidental poisoning cases. To some, the word 'drug' is synonymous with drugs of abuse. Others may include medicines they are prescribed by the doctor or buy from a pharmacy. What is a drug? It is a chemical of any origin, natural or synthetic, which is taken or administered in order to effect a particular beneficial change in the body. This may be to treat a disease or to alleviate its symptoms. The definition also includes some chemicals often used by many people such as alcohol, tobacco, and caffeine, which most people don't regard as 'drugs'. They are drugs, however, and can be at least as hazardous as some of the more notorious drugs of abuse. In some parts of the world different drugs are part of the culture, for example coca leaves and khat which are chewed by the peoples of South America and north-east Africa respectively. Drugs are an important part of our society, and yet we have an ambivalent attitude to them.

There are several ways in which drugs can be poisonous, but they are chemicals, to which the Paracelsus Principle applies, that at some dose they will be poisonous or toxic. Indeed it has been said that there are no safe drugs, only safe ways of using them. Although the toxic and even lethal effects of drugs taken in overdoses for suicidal purposes may be accepted by most people, the adverse effects that occur at normal doses are not as readily accepted. Unfortunately these adverse effects do occur. They are usually detected as a result of patients reporting them to their

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