Are you taking an unapproved – and possibly untested – narcotic?

These might sound like black-market drugs or the stuff you buy on the Internet, but they're a lot more common than you probably think.

In fact, some of these drugs are probably sitting on the shelf at your local pharmacy right now. The Food and Drug Administration recently wrote to manufacturers to demand they stop distributing 14 unapproved painkillers, including prescription versions of morphine, hydromorphone, and oxycodone.

Unapproved drugs are those that have never been OK'd by the FDA. That means they've never undergone the testing process that drugs sold in the United States are supposed to pass.

But beyond that, they are sold and marketed like any other drug.

Chances are your doctor has written prescriptions for some of them – and he may not even know it. And if he doesn't know, how can you?

Let's call that one more reason why you should never assume anything when it comes to your health, especially regarding your medications.

The FDA believes around 2 percent of all prescriptions are for these kinds of meds. When you consider that nearly 4 billion prescriptions were written last year, that means close to 80 million of them were for unapproved drugs.

Some of these drugs have been on the market for a long time, before the present standards were laid out, and their manufacturers simply never bothered to go through the approval process with them.

But that's no excuse.

You may know by now that I have a real problem with how the FDA approves drugs. Many medications that meet FDA standards have serious flaws and nasty side effects. Plenty of them are just plain ineffective. And too many of them are approved too quickly, before we know everything about them.

Now try to imagine drugs that don't even meet those low standards.

When your doctor gives you a prescription, don't be afraid to ask him about it. And you should always feel comfortable inquiring about non-drug alternatives. In many cases, you can avoid potential problems altogether by choosing a safe and effective drug-free treatment.

And when you are given a prescription, do a little homework – the FDA website has a database listing just about every drug approved since 1939, making that a pretty good place to start.

Because the sad truth of the matter is, if you don't do these things for yourself, no one else is going to do them for you.