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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 medicines 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 for you, including your current condition, your past medical history, your other medications and the likely risks and benefits of the drug to you as an individual. After making this decision, they 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. After all that you’ll then get an information sheet at the pharmacy giving you all these details and more in printed form.

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 reasons why using someone else’s prescription medicine is a bad idea:

  • You might not really understand what the drug’s intended uses are or what its typical or atypical effects might be.
  • Because of similarities in medication names it could be a completely different drug than what you think it is.
  • You might not know or understand the drug’s potential short- or long-term side effects and either not be prepared for them or not recognize their occurrence.
  • The drug might be harmful for someone with your particular medical condition, and your doctor would never have prescribed it for you.
  • 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.
  • You might already be taking another drug that could negatively interact with this one.
  • Taking the drug without a proper diagnosis could mask symptoms of your underlying condition, which could be getting worse.
  • It could be the wrong dose for your particular body size or weight.
  • The dose might be way too high for you because for some medications you need to build up to that dose gradually by taking lower doses at first and slowly increasing them (called titration).
  • You might be allergic to the drug or its components.
  • You might have either liver or kidney dysfunction and not be able to eliminate the medication properly, allowing it to build up to toxic levels.
  • You might need to take other drugs along with it to prevent side effects.
  • The drug could be past its expiration date.
  • Although it may say one thing on the label, it’s possible the person already used all those pills and is storing something completely different in there. If you do have an unexpected serious reaction, no one will know what you’ve taken, least of all your own doctor, which could delay needed treatment for your emergency situation.

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, is a pharmacist at Mount Nittany Medical Center.

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