Prescription drugs- millions “lending” pills to friends
Ill people are risking their lives by taking drugs such as heart tablets and painkillers that were prescribed for friends or family.More than a million people a year are using medications intended for someone else without seeking advice from their GP, new research reveals.
Professor Steve Field, the leader of Britain’s family doctors, urged those who share medicines to stop before someone died as a result.
“The sharing of drugs in this way is inherently dangerous because neither the patient who was first prescribed the medication nor the person now taking them will understand the drug or its side effects, or its possible interaction with other drugs you may be taking,” said Field, chairman of the Royal College of General Practitioners. “Those taking them are putting themselves at risk of harm or even death.”
Field described as “very worrying” the results of a survey by Lloyds Pharmacy, which runs 1,650 chemists’ shops across the UK, into people’s handling of drugs. In all, 14% of the 2,043 adults questioned by pollsters ICM said they had given prescription medicines to other people in the last five years. That would equate to 6.3m adults over the period.
They said they had shared drugs they no longer needed on an average of almost six occasions, which would equate to about 37 million doses of prescription drugs.
Women are more likely to do it (16%) than men (10%), ICM found, as are older people and those on lower incomes, which may suggest that the cost of dispensing a prescription – £7.20 in England – is part of the explanation. One in four households contains medication which is no longer being used.
Painkillers were the drugs most commonly passed on: 66% of those who had shared medication had given those to others. The other drugs included antibiotics (11%), antidepressants (4%) and oral contraceptives (3%), though some people said they had let others use unwanted medicines used to help control heart conditions and cholesterol-lowering statins, which are taken by 4 million Britons.
“The people who are taking these ‘spare’ drugs might be at risk because, for example, they might have an allergy to a constituent of them, or the medication might have unintended side-effects,” said Field. “Prescriptions are given out on trust between the GP and the patient. Drugs should never be shared or passed on to people they weren’t intended for. Patients should stop doing this.
“Patients quite often say they have borrowed painkillers from friends, either to save money, or because they want to try something stronger, or because they don’t want to bother their GP or chemist. This is potentially harmful,” said Field.
“If someone borrows very strong painkillers they can make them very dopey or confused, especially if they are old, so driving a car or using machinery at work could become highly risky, for example.”
Lloyds Pharmacy voiced concern at patients passing on medications in “the mistaken and dangerous belief that they are doing someone a favour”. Andy Murdock, its pharmacy relations and governance director, said: “Doctors prescribe particular drugs to suit the individual needs and circumstances of the patient. If you cross the wrong drug with the wrong person, the results could be awful, even fatal. What’s more, it’s likely that many of the drugs which are passed on are out of date, and that presents its own dangers.”
He added: “You can understand the thought process: the drug has worked well for the patient, they have a friend who seems to be displaying similar symptoms and they have some pills to spare. It seems like a harmless and kind act to throw over a bottle and say, ‘try one of these’. But they could be allergic to the active ingredient, or it may be contra-indicated with other medication they are taking. And of course the ‘diagnosis’ may well have been wrong in the first place.”
Tags: Doctors, drugs classification, GPs, prescription charges, preventable crisis, Risk of Drugs