January 15, 2008 in Features

People’s Pharmacy: Drinking Listerine can be dangerous

Joe Graedon and Teresa Graedon The Spokesman-Review

Q. We are at a standoff with our son. During his eight-day visit over the holidays, he used 3 1/2 bottles (1.5 liters each) of Listerine. We are concerned because it contains alcohol.

Our son went through detox treatment four years ago. He refuses to attend AA meetings where he lives. His other addiction is nicotine (in snuff).

He tells us he only rinses his mouth with Listerine after he finishes the snuff, but we have seen so many changes in his behavior (abusive language, attitudes, unsteady walk and speech) that we are convinced he must be ingesting the mouthwash.

Please write about repercussions from the misuse of Listerine.

A. No one could use more than 5 liters (5.5 quarts) of Listerine in eight days purely as a mouthwash. If your son followed the directions on the label to rinse with two-thirds of an ounce morning and night, one bottle should have lasted him more than a month. The maker of Listerine states unequivocally, “Do not swallow.”

Listerine lists alcohol as an “inactive” ingredient (26.9 percent). It also contains eucalyptol, menthol, thymol and methyl salicylate. Methyl salicylate can be toxic if taken internally. Combined with the alcohol, it might account for the symptoms you observed.

Your son needs professional help. There are several prescription drugs to help overcome alcohol and nicotine addictions (ReVia or Campral for alcohol; Zyban or Chantix for nicotine).

Q. I am lucky to have insurance through my employer, but I need more medications as I grow older.

Last month, my doctor and I discussed new drugs for two health problems. Because I have had serious negative reactions to many generics, we opted for name brands.

My insurance company refuses to pay Tier 3 ($70 for 90-day mail supply) for the brand-name medications that my doctor and I agreed would be best. As a result, my budget was blown to shreds. I had to pay $420 for two drugs last month, and now must determine which other bills not to pay now and next month. What else can I do?

A. Many insurance companies have created a multitier payment system to discourage the use of expensive brand-name medicines. This might seem reasonable, but we are concerned. So many people have reported problems with generic drugs on our Web site (www.peoplespharmacy.com) that we are no longer confident of their quality.

People who need pricey prescriptions may want to shop comparatively using a service such as www.PharmacyChecker.com. Another option might be to buy brand-name drugs from reliable Canadian online pharmacies. Be aware, though, that some online drugstores masquerade as Canadian.

We are sending you our Guide to Saving Money on Medicine for guidance on determining which online pharmacies are legitimate. Anyone who would like a copy, please send $2 in check or money order with a long (No. 10), stamped (58 cents), self-addressed envelope to: Graedons’ People’s Pharmacy, No. CA-99, P.O. Box 52027, Durham, NC 27717-2027. It can also be downloaded for $2 from our Web site: www.peoplespharmacy.com.

Q. Is it true that drinking coffee with caffeine from the age of 9 on up will stunt a young girl’s growth and keep her short?

A. We could find no research to support this old wives’ tale. The Penn State Young Women’s Health Study found no connection between caffeine intake and height or bone strength (Journal of the American College of Nutrition, October 1998). Caffeine has other undesirable effects in children, however, and may weaken bones in older people.

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