Medication sharing is recklessly uncaring - (1/4/2022)

By Dr. Ron Gasbarro

"I hear you and the wife are going down South for the winter," said the pharmacist. "I've got that antibiotic prescription ready for you to take." "Thanks, Doc," said Mr. Henry. "I figured if the wife and me get the sniffles, we can split the prescription and get better fast. Otherwise, other people in our condo complex are willing to share." "Red flag!" thought the pharmacist. 

First, if by the "sniffles", Mr. Henry means a viral cold, the antibiotic will not work. Second, by not taking the entire course of an antibiotic as prescribed because they will share it, both patients may develop a severe opportunistic bacterial infection. Third, misuse of antibiotics results in antibiotic resistance. This is when the bacteria become impervious to most antibiotics, and the patient can die from a serious infection. 

The message is clear: Do not share prescription medications. So, who is going to stop you from sharing drugs? Is someone going to call 9-1-1 and ask for a swat team to move in and bust everyone? Probably not. But you may be calling for an ambulance instead. For example, well-meaning Wilma was talking to her friend, Mrs. Roe, who was coughing almost continuously. "Do you have a cold?" she asked Mrs. Roe. "No, I think my apartment is dry," she replied. "Or maybe it's my allergies. Doctors tell you one thing, and it's actually another." "Why not try the cough syrup my doctor prescribed for me?" Wilma suggested. "It will knock the bejesus right out of you!" 

However, Wilma did not realize that Mrs. Roe was big on the whiskey and consumed at least a pint a day – quite a bit for an 80-year-old who weighed less than 100 pounds. In addition, she was on at least 6 medications for her heart and blood pressure. The cough formulation that Wilma had contained a narcotic – the last thing Mrs. Roe needed to add to her abundance of medications. The next day Wilma heard Mrs. Roe groaning inside her apartment. Wilma called for help and saved Mrs. Roe's life. And Wilma learned a valuable lesson: Do not share prescription medications. Especially if they are narcotics as that is illegal, and you can be held criminally accountable.

One more example. Howie was having bad headaches. He mentioned his problem to his pal Danny. Danny slipped him a few tablets that he had left over from a recent surgery. "Try these," Danny said. "They really worked after my operation." Howie downed several of the pills along with a pain medication his doctor gave him. Within the hour, Howie was vomiting violently and doubled up in pain. He ended up in the hospital for several days with severe dehydration until he stabilized. Later, when he asked Danny what kind of pills he had given him, Danny had no idea. "I never read the labels," he admitted.

You are doing no one a favor when you pass along prescription medications to people for whom they were not prescribed. For instance, the older the recipient of your "kindly gesture", the more likely she will be using additional medicines. Consequently, harmful side effects, as well as drug interactions, can occur. Also, similar symptoms can be caused by different illnesses. Case in point: while a cough may be caused by a cold or allergies, it could also be a symptom with another diagnosis, such as emphysema or congestive heart failure. Indeed, doses for many medications are tailored to a patient's age and weight. An elderly patient who may be in poorer health may be slipped a medication unsuitable for that person's specific body type.

Next time, advises the pharmacist, if you really want to help another person, suggest they return to their physician. That's the most caring act you can do for that individual. And don't share prescriptions!

Ron Gasbarro, PharmD, is a recovering pharmacist and writer-in-residence at Rx-Press.


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