Every drug has risks and information is key to avoiding them

Some drugs are so common that consumers -- at their peril -- don’t think twice about them. But each drug, whether prescription or over-the-counter, poses risks. We offer a few details on five of the most-prescribed medications.

Hydrocodone with acetaminophen

Brand names: Vicodin, Lortab

Description: A combination of a narcotic (hydrocodone) with a non-narcotic (acetaminophen) pain reliever, it’s prescribed for moderate to severe pain.

Pharmacists say . . . : Check the labels of any other medications you are taking to see if they contain acetaminophen, and only take one source of acetaminophen at a time.


Brand names: Prinivil, Zestril

Description: An ACE (angiotensin-converting enzyme) inhibitor, lisinopril is prescribed for high blood pressure and heart failure and to improve survival chances after heart attacks.

Pharmacists say . . . : This medication should never be used by pregnant women. ACE inhibitors are generally less potent in African Americans. Also, studies have shown that when taking such drugs, African Americans are at increased risk for angioedema (swelling similar to hives but under the skin and potentially life-threatening). Seniors too are at higher risk for angioedema. Because lisinopril suppresses the body’s ability to quickly adjust blood pressure, you could faint if you jump out of bed or stand up too quickly. Avoid potassium supplements or salt substitutes containing potassium.


Brand name: Zocor

Description: Like other statins, simvastatin inhibits a particular liver enzyme (HMG Co-A reductase) and is prescribed to reduce LDL cholesterol, often called “bad cholesterol.”

Pharmacists say . . . : Stick to your cholesterol-lowering diet. Take at the same time every day, preferably at night. Do not take while pregnant. Do not drink grapefruit juice or eat a lot of grapefruit. Avoid alcohol, which can raise triglyceride levels and possibly damage your liver. Muscle-related side effects are more likely in the elderly than in the young.


Brand names: Levothroid, Levoxyl, Synthroid, Unithroid

Description: A thyroid hormone, levothyroxine is prescribed for hypothyroidism, a condition in which the thyroid gland doesn’t produce enough thyroid hormone.

Pharmacists say . . . : Take once a day in the morning on an empty stomach 30 minutes before breakfast or other medications. If you take iron, calcium or antacids (e.g., Mylanta, Maalox), you should take them at least four hours after levothyroxine. Small changes in your thyroid pill can cause large changes in thyroid levels in the blood. So you should continue to take the same brand that you start on and get stabilized on.


Brand names: Zithromax, Zitromax, Sumamed

Description: A macrolide antibiotic, azithromycin is prescribed for a wide range of bacterial infections.

Pharmacists say . . . : If you take antacids (e.g., Maalox, Mylanta), take them at least two hours before, or four hours after, taking azithromycin. If you miss a dose, don’t double up. Take the next dose on time and continue on schedule until the prescription is gone. When patients with viral infections take an antibiotic, they may feel better four or five days later and assume it has worked -- but really the infection has just run its course.

azithromycin . This information is provided by the U.S. National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health. Specifically, go to the " Drugs and Supplements " section. at "> . This drug information site offers easy-to-read content for both professionals and consumers. For efficient searching, start by clicking on " Drugs A to Z. " RxList at "> ">