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The dangers of sharing prescription medications

Using someone else’s prescription medicine is a lot like playing a game of chance — you might get away unscathed, and then again you might not. Just because we see prescription medications advertised on TV, doesn’t mean they are safe for everyone.

There are good reasons why you can’t buy them over the counter. A physician takes many factors into account before prescribing a medication, including current conditions, past medical history, use of other medications and the likely risks and benefits of the drug to the individual. After making this decision, he or she will then explain how to take the medication, when to take it, how much and how long to take it, what else you can and can’t take with it, and what to expect after you take it — both the good and the bad. The pharmacy will also likely provide an information sheet detailing all the prescription information.

Taking someone else’s prescription medication deprives you of all these considerations and leaves you vulnerable to a host of problems, some of which can be life-threatening or even fatal. Here are some risks associated with taking someone else’s prescription medication:

▪ You might not fully understand the drug’s intended uses, or typical effects.

▪ The drug could end up not being what you thought it was.

▪ You might not know or understand the drug’s potential short- or long-term side effects and not be prepared or recognize their occurrence.

▪ The drug might be bad or otherwise wrong for someone with your particular medical condition.

▪ You might not know whether the medication should or shouldn’t be taken with food or whether it’s OK to combine it with alcohol or other drugs that depress the central nervous system.

▪ You might already be taking other drugs that could cause negative interactions.

▪ Taking the drug without a proper diagnosis could mask symptoms of an underlying condition.

▪ It could be the wrong dose for your particular body size or weight.

▪ You might be allergic to the drug or its components.

▪ You might have either liver or kidney dysfunction and not be able to metabolize the medication properly, allowing it to build up toxic levels.

▪ You might need to take other drugs along with it to prevent side effects.

▪ The drug could be past its expiration date.

▪ The drug inside the container may be different than what is written on the label, making it more difficult to get proper treatment should you have an unexpected serious reaction.

Sharing medications is usually done with the best intentions. It’s tempting to share prescriptions with friends or family members to help relieve their symptoms, make them feel better and save money. The bottom line is, doing so can result in serious, even fatal consequences. Sharing medications is never a good idea.

Lexie Lindner, Pharm. D., Mount Nittany Medical Center Pharmacy