Who’s Passing The Pills?

Despite warnings about borrowing medication prescribed to other people, many Americans say they have used someone else’s medication at least once in the past year. Stereotypically this practice was thought to be most widespread among low income, urban populations, due to a number of factors including a perceived lack of access to health care and higher rates of crime and drug abuse.  However, as with many stereotypes, it seems this just isn’t true.  A new study by researchers from Temple University Medical School has blown this urban myth wide open. Lead author, Lawrence Ward says “The perception was that those from a lower socioeconomic background would be more apt to use ill-gotten drugs, and we found that to not be the case.” Ward and his team surveyed patterns of borrowing prescription drugs among patients seeking outpatient, emergency or inpatient care. Most were African-American (75%), were high-school educated or less (71%) and lacked full-time employment (68%). However, the vast majority of this group (90%) reported having health insurance and about 75% had recently seen their primary health care provider.  Overall, only 18% reported ever taking a prescription medication originally meant for use by someone else. This rate is on par with the results of studies in other populations across the country. “I think this helps to break some stereotypes, particularly in the way doctors view their patients,” said Ward. “Just because patients are from a less affluent area, they are not more apt to borrow prescription medications than their more educated or more affluent counterparts.” The researchers also found that the most common reason for borrowing medicines was convenience. Most commonly they were obtained from a friend or family member, rather than via more illicit routes such as theft or from a dealer.  The most common drugs borrowed from others were:

Ward cautions that anyone borrowing medications from someone else can open themselves up to a host of health risks, including a delay in proper medical treatment, an increase in medication resistance and adverse drug to drug interactions. “We need to work towards better awareness of the problem,” said Ward. “Many patients might not realize the risk they take when using someone else’s medication. Doctors must recognize that at least 20 percent of their patients may be using another person’s medications, and should regularly inquire about medication use and stress the dangers of medication borrowing.” As someone who has been known to “share” medications (antibiotics, anti-inflammatories) with my dogs, I consider myself warned. Have you ever “borrowed” meds?  Share your stories with us and our readers.

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