Raise your hand if this sounds familiar. You or a family member are sick, so you search your medicine cabinet for a cure. When the over-the-counter items aren’t enough, you grab antibiotics left over from the last nasty illness that befell your family.
They worked before, right? Besides, who has the time and money to get a new prescription when what you need is already in your hand?
If you’ve done this, you’re not alone. In a national survey of 500 patients, nearly half said they had kept leftover antibiotics. And three-quarters of those folks said they gave the medication to others or took it themselves, all without consulting a doctor.
Physicians at the Cohen Children’s Medical Center in New York conducted the survey after talking to their patients. In a typical example, a parent would say she had treated a sick child with leftover medicine. What’s the harm, she would ask?
Even if the medicine has not expired, the person receiving it might have a different weight, age or diagnosis. The prescribed dosage might be wrong for this person, who could have an adverse reaction.
Not surprising, the most common reason parents gave for reusing antibiotics was cost. They had a high co-pay for the visit to the doctor, and medicine isn’t cheap.
While appreciating the financial problem some families face, the physicians stressed the dangers that exist not just for those receiving the antibiotics but for the entire population. Some antibiotics may no longer help as the bacteria being targeted become more resistant through overuse.
The key, they said, is educating people about how antibiotics work and the risks of taking any drugs without consulting a health provider.