ALLERGY DRUGS: Rx Drugs Safer than OTC Medications
Although the new generation of prescription allergy medications - - Claritin, Allegra and Zyrtec -- are safer than over-the-counter treatments, over-the-counter drugs, such as sedation-causing Benadryl, remain the number one therapy for Americans. According to a USA Today report, U.S. consumers and insurers pay $1.3 billion a year for Claritin and another $1.3 billion in doctors' visits for prescriptions, revealing "why this country has the world's highest drug prices." Unlike in other countries, prescriptions are needed for these newer allergy therapies. Pointing to their safety, Blue Cross of California is pushing the FDA to make them available over the counter. The HMO's petition states, "Requiring that a patient schedule an office visit to obtain safe medications ... is an undue time and financial burden to the patient ... and trivializes the patient-physician relationship." Gary Kay, a Georgetown University neuropsychologist, agreed, saying, "If you put any drugs behind the counter, it should be the old antihistamines. They're the ones with all the dangerous side effects."
After reviewing more than 150 medical studies on antihistamines and interviewing more than a dozen allergy researchers, USA Today found that sedating antihistamines result in some 600 auto fatalities each year. An additional 47,750 people are injured annually in crashes caused by these drugs. Richard Compton of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said that although the drugs "aren't in the league of alcohol in causing highway deaths, they no doubt cause accidents, and the highways would be safer if people used non-sedating antihistamines instead." European studies comparing the effects of antihistamines and alcohol determined that "a single dose of Benadryl is equivalent to a blood-alcohol content of 0.09 -- higher than the 0.08 level that makes a driver legally drunk in many states." These antihistamines also cause impaired coordination, dizziness and, in rare cases, seizures and hallucinations (Cauchon, 4/12).