Database highlights hazardous drug combinations

30 November 2009

A University of Sydney project has developed the first searchable database providing information on the potentially hazardous interactions of prescription and herbal medicines.

Professor Basil Roufogalis from Faculty of Pharmacy at the University of Sydney has joined with medical information provider UnityHealth to release a searchable database that provides information on the interactions of prescription and herbal medicines. The database will be available on the IMgateway integrative medicine information portal.

Recent surveys by the National Prescribing Service have found that safety and interactions between herbal medicines and prescription drugs is amongst the information most required by health professionals. Further, half the people who reported that they used complementary and alternative medicines also used conventional medicines on the same day, although the majority of these did not report this to their doctors.

The interactive database will enable general practitioners, pharmacists and other health professionals to retrieve evidence-based information on clinically-significant drug and herb interactions on the Internet through an interface on It contains data from over 3000 sources, including 700 medical journals, and the information will be disseminated online to a network of 10 000 general practitioners, pharmacists and allied health professionals.

Subscribers will be able to search a herb or supplement against a drug (or vice-versa), quickly obtain a recommendation on whether the combination should be avoided or requires caution, and retrieve reports on which the recommendation is based. They may also access a monograph in IMgateway on either the herb or the drug, as well as obtain a list of publications referred to in the report. The database has the great advantage over other sources in that it is regularly updated with the most recent research data, delivering accurate and up to date clinical recommendations.

The database has the great advantage over other sources in that it is regularly updated with the most recent research data, delivering accurate and up-to-date clinical recommendations.

"This is a unique database because it is based on the Australian market while other such resources tend to use herb and drug names used in the United States or UK," said Professor Basil Roufogalis, who was has been involved in the project since its inception in 2002.

"It is also different from other such sources because it makes clinical recommendations on the significance of herb-drug interactions based on the National Health and Medical Research Council's levels of evidence scale. Its electronic format makes it easily accessible in the work place, and that's a great advantage too."

"When we started creating this database, there was a lot of speculation about the interactions between herbal medicines and pharmaceutical drugs but little evaluation of actual evidence for such interactions, both positive and negative. What information was available was mainly from reviews rather than the original studies," said Professor Roufogalis, who has worked on herbal medicines since 1997 when the University of Sydney founded the Herbal Medicine Research and Education Centre at the Faculty of Pharmacy.

Work on the database started with a three-year grant from the Vincent Fairfax Family Foundation. This year, UnityHealth, a medical information, education and software technology provider which runs a website called IMgateway (, created an interface for the University of Sydney database that will live on their site. The database has a user-friendly format that is accessible to health professionals as part of a subscription.

"There is increasing risk for patients given the extensive use of complementary medicines in our community today, and GPs and pharmacists have a duty of care to ask their patients about complementary medicines and avoid the risk of harm in this evolving area," says Peter De Lorenzo, Director of UnityHealth.

"UnityHealth has trialled the database with a number of practicing GPs and the response has been overwhelmingly positive. In particular, it is easy to use, up to date and quick. The team at the University of Sydney have incorporated the rigor necessary to complete the first release of this database, with ongoing updates to come. It is a very exciting Australian initiative for our industry, a badly needed resource for health professionals and good news for patients safety."

The databasewas launched at the Australian Society of Clinical and Experimental Pharmacologists and Toxicologists meeting at Darling Harbour on Sunday November 29.

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