Are You a Prescription Sharer?
1 in 4 Americans Raises Drug Risks by Sharing Prescriptions
April 29, 2008 -- One in four Americans shares prescription drugs with others
-- and opens a Pandora's box of risk.
This suggestion of widespread drug sharing comes from a pilot study in which
researchers interviewed 700 people in 10 U.S. cities. It's the first study to
take a broad look at what people say about "loaning" and
"borrowing" prescription medications.
About 23% of the people interviewed loaned medicines, and about 27% borrowed
them, find Richard C. Goldsworthy, PhD, of Academic Edge Inc. and
"Whether this sharing is beneficial or detrimental depends on what is
shared and for what reason," Goldsworthy tells WebMD. "But we found a
lot of situations where sharing can be detrimental -- in ways we don't always
(Have you ever shared
medications with or borrowed them from a friend or family member? Why? Talk
with others on WebMD's
Health Cafe message board.)
Art Poremba, MS, manager of ambulatory pharmacy services at the University
of Michigan health service, knows people sometimes share their drugs, but he's surprised at
how many appear to do it. Poremba was not involved in the Goldsworthy
"This bypasses all the key safety elements in our health care
system," Poremba tells WebMD. "This amounts to self-diagnosis and
self-prescribing. It could be people end up with inappropriate drugs, with
inappropriate dosages, with something someone is allergic to, or with the
totally wrong drug for what the person is taking it for."
Goldsworthy's team found that the drugs most often shared are:
- Allergy drugs (25.3% of respondents)
Pain drugs (21.9% of
- Antibiotics (20.6% of respondents)
Antibiotic sharing particularly worries Goldsworthy.
"If people are sharing antibiotics, if they have enough left over, it
means they didn't take the drug as prescribed -- so now they have some
antibiotic-resistant bugs left over," he says. "And the person they
share with isn't getting a full dose, so they'll have more drug-resistant bugs.
With one in five people sharing antibiotics, it's reasonable that this
contributes to the growing problem of antibiotic-resistant infections."
Who's sharing the drugs? According to the study:
- More whites (23%) and Hispanics (26%) share drugs than do African-Americans
- More women (24%) than men (12%) share drugs.
What makes people more willing to share drugs? The study shows that:
- 39.4% of respondents said they'd share drugs with a family member.
- 38.6% of respondents said they'd share drugs if they had a prescription for
it, but ran out or didn't have it with them.
- 37.9% of respondents said they'd share drugs if they had an emergency.
Prescription Drug Sharing Dangers
What's wrong with sharing prescription drugs? Plenty. Goldsworthy and
colleagues point to a number of risks:
- People who borrow drugs instead of seeing a doctor may miss out on
effective treatment for what truly ails them.
- Borrowed drugs may not work if not taken at the right dosage, for the right
length of time. People who think drugs won't help them may give up on
treatments that would be effective at the right dosage.
- Borrowing antibiotics -- reported by one in five respondents -- isn't
likely to work, but is likely to promote the growth of drug-resistant
- Drugs may have much more serious side effects for the borrower than for the
person to whom they were originally prescribed.
"If you take shared medicines, you should tell your doctor about it,
because that will affect how well your doctor can tell what's wrong with
you," Goldsworthy says. "If you give someone else a medication, at
least pass on the important warnings that come with it. If you borrow a
medication, be aware you may not be learning all you need to know about the
Goldsworthy and colleagues report their findings in the June issue of the
American Journal of Public Health.