Is It A Drug Or A Disease?

Alan L.Written by SAIL Council Member and Pharmacist Alan Lukazewski (pictured left)

The discovery of newer drugs has produced many miracles.  These miracles range from altering trajectories of some cancers which used to be fatal and turning them into manageable chronic diseases, to helping people with heart failure who were once confined to a chair to be able to function and feel more comfortable in their day-to-day lives. These are just two examples of how drugs, when used properly, can improve our quality of life, or even save a life. However, with the addition of every drug, there is also the risk for harm, and that risk increases as we take more drugs. This is known as poly-pharmacy—the use of multiple medications which may induce an unintended adverse effect of a medication.

To bring this into your more familiar world, consider drugs for bladder health or urinary problems. They frequently cause memory health issues such as forgetfulness or feeling foggy, which can be reversed if the drug is discontinued. Also worth mentioning is that non-drug methods to manage bladder health are more are at least as effective as bladder health drugs—that’s a fact. But also unique is an adverse effect from a drug prescribed for glaucoma, Xalatan (latanoprost), which is known to be absorbed to the area of the heart, through the tear duct and can cause angina or chest pain. Many a doctor and patient have not made that correlation and the result has been unnecessary treatment.  Thus, if you take Xalatan (latanoprost) or Travatan (travoprost) and have angina or heart disease with chest pain, you may want to consider researching this more.


Another confirmed adverse event from a common medication is severe joint pain from Januvia (sitagliptin). Cases have been reported in which severe joint pain caused admission to a hospital with the misdiagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis, with the subsequent intravenous administration of a potent drug called Remicade (infliximab), which can cause infusion reactions and severe infections in some. In instances when the Januvia was stopped, severe joint pain resolved.

These are just a few examples of dozens I can cite that are real-world examples of drug-induced disease, which if we were more aware, we could have avoided harm and unnecessary treatment.

Look for ongoing tips on how to avoid harm from your medications in ongoing articles in upcoming SAIL newsletters and the new SAIL blog.  Also, remember that if you are a Full Member of SAIL, you can receive a comprehensive medication review by an Oakwood Pharmacist in collaboration with the University of Wisconsin School of Pharmacy  (one/year at no charge; additional reviews for $85/review)!

Alan Lukazewski is Director of Clinical Pharmacy at the WEA Trust. Prior to joining WEA Trust in 2015, Alan worked at Oakwood Village for 13 years (2001-2015) as Director of Pharmacy Services. He’s worked with seniors for over twenty-five years in a variety of settings. He’s a University of Illinois graduate and a Diabetes Health Educator. He strongly believes in holistic care and the importance of trying non-drug interventions whenever possible. Alan’s close ties with the University of Wisconsin Schools of Medicine and Pharmacy and his role as a service learning instructor, provided him with up to date, researched based information about drug treatments and protocols. Alan currently serves on the SAIL Operating Council as a Community Member.

For more information about becoming a SAIL member, contact us at 608-230-4321 or

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