Pill-popping has become a common practice today. The stressful conditions under which we live, the competition at work or business, the struggle to keep up with the Joneses, has taken a toll on human health. About 50% of the general population suffers from headaches several times during the month. Dyspepsia, heartburn and peptic ulcers are other common complaints. As depression, insomnia, allergies and various other problems increase, pharmaceutical companies flood the market with new drugs. There are pills available even to combat laziness or shyness. Ingenious advertising and aggressive marketing have turned us into a generation of pill-poppers.
Self-medication is the use of drugs without a doctor’s advice. Medicines may be recommended by a family member or a friend or a pharmacist.
Reasons for Self-medication:
• Lack of time to see a doctor. Inability to get a quick appointment. The battery of unnecessary tests ordered for a simple illness is both expensive and time-consuming.
• Illness may be too mild to warrant a visit to the doctor.
• A similar complaint may have been treated successfully through a previous prescription. So the medication is repeated.
• Too much information culled from the internet or magazines makes people confident about treating their own illness.
• Non-availability of a doctor in the vicinity. The hospital or clinic may be a long distance away.
• Poverty. A doctor’s fees may be unaffordable.
• Easy availability of over-the-counter drugs.
• Home remedies that have been used in the family with success.
• Elderly people are suspicious of allopathic medicines. So alternative therapies are commonly used in developing countries.
The Dangers of Self-medication are many
1. Habituation. Many become addicted to prescription drugs such as cough syrups, anti-allergic drugs, antacids, pain relievers or tonics. Newspapers often report about Hollywood actors checking into rehabilitation facilities for addiction to prescription drugs.
2. Allergic reactions that may be severe or even fatal. Antibiotics like Penicillin or Sulpha drugs can cause very severe reactions.
3. Irrational drug combinations are available in the market. Some of them may be dangerous especially if taken with alcohol or other substances. Even food supplements and tonics can sometimes be harmful.
4. Under-dosage may not cure the symptom. Over-dosage can produce collateral damage to heart, kidneys or other organs. Indiscriminate use of antibiotics through wrong dosage or insufficient duration may lead to resistance or a sudden allergic reactions. As a result, when there is need for an antibiotic, it may be ineffective.
5. Even an overdose of vitamins may have an adverse effect, especially fat-soluble vitamins like A, D, E, and K.
6. Cheap and substandard drugs are of no use.
7. Addiction to psychotropic drugs such as LSD, Ketamine, cocaine, marijuana is on the increase.
8. A symptom like headache or nausea may be common to many medical diseases. By masking the symptom temporarily, it will be difficult for a doctor to arrive at a correct diagnosis.
Drugs most commonly used are painkillers. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like brufen or ibuprofen increase the risk of stroke by four times in a person suffering from high blood pressure. They also cause gastric problems. COX2 inhibitors affect the heart. Paracetamol, aspirin, anti-allergic pills, anabolic steroids – any of these can produce side- effects detrimental to health.
How to discourage self-medication:
Sir William Osler said “One of the first duties of a physician is to educate the masses when not to take medicines.”
So the most important thing is to educate the general public on the dangers of self-medication. Health talks can be given in schools or colleges or even at the grass root level through talks, slide shows or videos. Every drug must be regarded as potentially dangerous if taken indiscriminately. Medication should be taken on the advice of a doctor or a trained health professional.
Proper drug control is very important. Drugs should not be dispensed without prescriptions. There should be proper maintenance of records of dangerous drugs, by shops selling medicines. Drug inspectors should be more vigilant in checking these pharmacies. Many patients rely on the pharmacist to recommend drugs for their ailments. Sometimes antibiotics are given only for a day or two. There should be some restrictions on over-the-counter drugs.
Slack implementation of drug control is the reason why pharmacists feel free to prescribe at will. People vary greatly in their sensitivity to drugs. One person’s dosage may be a little too much for the next person, resulting in toxic reactions.
Doctors too should be conversant with the properties of the drugs they prescribe. There are patients who demand antibiotics for the slightest indisposition such as a common cold. They should be discouraged. When an antibiotic is prescribed they should insist on the patient taking the entire course. They should also create awareness about the dangers of mixing drugs.
Self-medication is dangerous. Only the ignorant and the ill-advised will subject themselves to medication for every minor complaint. Pregnant women should be doubly cautioned as it can have adverse effects on the unborn child.
The next time you are tempted to pop a pill just stop and think!