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Government Study Outlines Risks of Home Medicine Cabinet and Prescription Abuse

prescription pillsThe National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) located in Bethesda, Maryland, was founded in 1988.  It is part of the NLM, the United States National Library of Medicine, which is a branch of the NIH, the National Institutes of Health.  It houses a series of databases having to do with biomedicine, the broad area of research science that seeks ways to prevent and treat the diseases causing illness and death in both people and animals.  Its databases also provide access to genomic information, which in the arena of public health, seeks to integrate the advances make in human genetics into public health policy and programs.

The Home Medicine Cabinet

Self-medication is the selection and use of medicines by a person or a member of the person’s family to treat self-recognized or self-diagnosed symptoms or conditions.

In 2009, the NCBI published an online article on the reality of the home medicine cabinet; estimating the prevalence of self-medication in the aged population and describing the home medicine cabinet’s relationship to self-medication.

It was a descriptive study done in an urban PHC (primary health care) center in Spain.  The 240 study participants were all aged 75 years or older.  The data was obtained by home care nurses who filled-in a structured questionnaire for the months of April to June in 2006.

The overall main subject of self-medication was further broken-down into 4 groups which included:

  • Pharmacological or Herbal
  • Pharmacological only.
  • Herbal only.
  • Pharmacological and Herbal.

Study variables included:

  • Age
  • Sex
  • Living alone
  • The number of chronic diseases
  • The number of chronic prescriptions
  • Medicine Cabinet Characteristics, including the number of drugs accumulated, the number of expired drugs, chronic drugs with out-dated prescription.
  • The location of the person’s medicine cabinet/chest.

Additional variables in the research study included the drug types, the source of the drugs, and whether the reason for self-medication was acute or chronic (longterm).

Study Results

The NCBI study results showed-up analgesics to be the most used drugs in self-medication.  Analgesics are the class of drugs which are used to relieve pain, and basically of two kinds—narcotic and non-narcotic.  The second most commonly used drugs in self-medication were cold remedies.

The study showed-up the pharmacy to be the most usual source of the drugs; as well as the fact that  41.6% of the home medicine cabinets contained drugs with out-dated chronic prescriptions, and with 34.4% of the home medicine cabinets accumulating greater than 3 boxes of the same medication.

The research study concluded that amongst the elderly, there is a “significant prevalence of self-medication.”  It also found the practice of accumulating drugs in the home to be very extensive.

As part of the study conclusions, it was suggested that Private Health Care professionals and pharmacists “need to be trained in the responsible use” of self-medication and chronic medication.  Moreover, it was noted that while self-care needs to encouraged, the Private Health Care professionals must make patients in their care aware of “the harmful effects of self-medication.”

Raising Awareness

Self-medication is regarded as being far from a completely safe practice, particularly in cases of self-medication done in a non-responsible manner.  There are a host of potential risks involved in medicating oneself, including incorrectly self-diagnosing; potentially severe adverse reactions; failing to seek competent and informed advice from a health practitioner when it is needed; potentially dangerous drug interactions; taking the drugs incorrectly; incorrect dosages; incorrect choice of drug used; the potential masking of a severe disease through self-medication; and the risk of drug abuse and drug dependence.

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Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19443087