According to a survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) conducted in 2008, at that time almost 50% of Americans had used at least one prescription drug in the past month.1 A higher percentage of Americans, however, had used over-the-counter medications and dietary and herbal supplements at least once in that time frame. Pharmacology provides the studies to determine the safety and effectiveness of these medications.
While the safety of medications is important for everyone, certain groups are at particular risk. These include:
Seniors. Seniors often take multiple medications that may interact with each other and lessen the effects of the drugs or, worse, cause serious harm.2 Pharmacology and pharmacogenetics investigate how these drugs interact with each other in the body to help health care providers choose the right medication and the right dosage for patients.3 For more information on medication use and seniors, visit the NIH National Institute on Aging's Senior Health page on medication safety.
Pregnant women. According to the CDC, 50% of pregnant women take up to four medications daily.4 Many medications may be given to pregnant women to manage their health conditions or to help the fetus develop. However, very few medications and supplements have been tested on pregnant women to determine the effectiveness and safety of these agents. A lack of testing can be harmful, however, as certain medications, for example, medications to treat acne5 and some dietary and herbal supplements6 can cause preterm labor or severe problems in fetal development or long-term development of the infant.
Infants and children. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), most drugs prescribed for children have not been tested on that age group. Until recently, only about 20% of drugs approved by the FDA were labeled for pediatric use.7 Health care providers often had to prescribe medication for children without the benefit of research and government regulations to back up their dosages and prescriptions. Because of this, children were often given a smaller dose of a medication for adults. Since 2002, as a result of the Best Pharmaceuticals for Children Act, the NICHD has been identifying drugs and supporting studies that contribute to pediatric labeling and improved medication safety and effectiveness in children.
For more information on the new labeling for children's medications, visit the FDA's website for parents.
- National Center for Health Statistics. (2011). Health, United States, 2011: With special feature on socioeconomic status and health. Retrieved August 8, 2012, from http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/hus/hus11.pdf#099 (PDF - 9.79 MB) [top]
- NIHSeniorHealth. (2011). Taking medicines. Retrieved August 7, 2012, from http://nihseniorhealth.gov/takingmedicines/sideeffects/01.html [top]
- NIHSeniorHealth. (2011). Personalized medicines. Retrieved August 8, 2012, from http://nihseniorhealth.gov/takingmedicines/personalizedmedicines/01.html [top]
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2012) . Medication use during pregnancy. Retrieved August 8, 2012, from http://www.cdc.gov/Features/dsMedicationPregnancy/ [top]
- American Pregnancy Association. (2007). Acne treatment during pregnancy. Retrieved August 8, 2012, from http://www.americanpregnancy.org/pregnancyhealth/acnetreatment.html [top]
- Office on Women's Health. (2009). Prenatal care fact sheet. Retrieved August 8, 2012, from http://www.womenshealth.gov/publications/our-publications/fact-sheet/prenatal-care.cfm [top]
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration. (2011). Drug research and children. Retrieved August 8, 2012, from http://www.fda.gov/Drugs/ResourcesForYou/Consumers/ucm143565.htm [top]