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12/21/2001

Study Aims to Reduce Dangerous Drug Interactions

Kate Traynor

Researchers at the University of Arizona College of Pharmacy and at Texas-based AdvancePCS have combined forces to reduce the occurrence of harmful drug–drug interactions.

Daniel C. Malone, Ph.D., a pharmacist and associate professor at the university's pharmacy school, is a principal investigator for the 12-month project, which is funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). AdvancePCS is the prime contractor for the project.

"The CDC wants to identify 10 to 15 important drug–drug interactions [and] determine how frequently they currently occur," Malone said. On the basis of that information, the research team will design a protocol for CDC that provides various mechanisms of "intervening on drug–drug interactions," he said.

Malone acknowledged that systems are already in place to alert health care providers to the potential occurence of a dangerous drug interaction, but he said the programs need to be improved.

Most of the time, Malone said, the drug-interaction alert systems used by pharmacies identify situations that require no intervention. He described such alerts as "noise" to which pharmacists can become desensitized.

"The classic example that people always talk about is the pregnancy warning in the 50-year-old male," he said. "It just doesn’t make sense to spend a lot of time chasing that stuff down."

The joint effort between the university and AdvancePCS is an attempt to produce more meaningful alerts.

"We’re providing the drug–drug interactions that are important," Malone said, referring to the university’s role in the project.

"We’ve taken four of the drug-interaction compendia that are published—three print and one electronic database—and looked at what consensus there was between all four," he said.

Next, he said, an expert panel will analyze selected interactions to determine their severity, likelihood of occurrence, and potential for prevention. AdvancePCS will then sift through its proprietary pharmacy data and determine how often the interactions occur. The final step is to produce a drug-interaction protocol for health care providers to follow.

Malone said the project's focus on the most important drug–drug interactions sets it apart from other efforts.

"Our goal, in the end, is to help patients and pharmacists and physicians in terms of providing better patient care," he said. "I think that this is a good step forward in terms of trying to address an issue that most pharmacists confront on a daily basis—that’s conflicting drug-drug interaction information."