Talk before you take

September 24, 2021

Medication plays an important role in managing diseases, but it can also be quite harmful if taken incorrectly. For this reason, you must be a responsible consumer when taking medications. The fact that you are purchasing and/or consuming medication makes you a consumer and as a consumer you have certain responsibilities before purchasing or consuming any product, let alone medication. The responsibility of critical awareness; getting information and facts about products – is paramount in such situations. For instance, it is not enough to know that you take a blue capsule and a yellow tablet twice a day – there is a plethora of information which must be evaluated before even deciding to take medication. However, due to the overabundance of information on the internet, many countries are now facing the issue of consumers becoming ‘google doctors’ and self-medicating without consulting a doctor.

The culture of self-medication

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines self-medication as the use of drugs to treat self-diagnosed disorders or symptoms, or the intermittent or continued use of a prescribed drug for chronic or recurrent disease or symptoms. It may include the use of herbs, the retention and re-use of prescription drugs or the direct purchase of Over the Counter (OTC) drugs without medical input. According to research done by WHO, the practice of self-medication is common worldwide in both developed and developing countries and may even be more common than the use of prescribed medication. In Fiji, families, friends, neighbours, the pharmacist, previously prescribed drugs, or suggestions from an advertisement in newspapers or popular magazines are common sources of self-medication.

Why do consumers self-medicate and not consult doctors?

There are many reasons why consumers may opt to self-medicate without consulting a doctor to treat symptoms or diseases. Some of the common reasons include;

1. Consumers believe it is a minor issue which can be easily treated without the hassle of going to see a doctor;

2. Their family and friends had the same symptoms and after taking a particular drug, they were able to recover. In this instance, their said family and friends may have been either prescribed this medication by a doctor or self-medicated; and

3. The medication was recommended via online sources.

Why self-medication can be grievous?

Self-medication is not only risky, but can also prove to be life-threatening in some cases. If you want to self-medicate, you should be able to recognize the symptoms that you are treating and should be confident that your medical condition is suitable for self-medication, and you should also be able to choose an appropriate medicine, and finally, you must also be able to follow the directions for use of the medicine as stated on the product labelling.

Now these are big asks. Most people who do not have medical qualifications will not be capable of ticking all the above boxes. This makes self-medication particularly dangerous. The doctor or a health professional is responsible for interpreting both signs and symptoms of an illness and the side effects of a medicine. Patients do not have the qualifications or the know-how to decide by themselves which medicine to take for what symptoms and what are the contradictions or side effects. For example, according to which is an innovative online doctor database, you may decide to self-medicate for a headache and this medicine interacts with another medicine that you are taking for a chronic issue and you end up harming yourself instead of recovering.

The United States National Institute of Health states the major problems related to self-medication are;

1. Wastage of resources;

2. Increased resistance of pathogens;

3. Causes serious health hazards such as adverse reaction and prolonged suffering; and

4. Antimicrobial resistance.

Talking to your doctor

Consulting your doctor is crucial before taking any medication. Here are four tips to help guide your conversation with your healthcare provider about OTC medicines:

1. Talk to your doctor and ask questions about the benefits and potential risks of medication you take or are planning to take;

2. Tell your doctor about all of the medicines you are taking—including over-the-counter medicines, vitamins, and dietary supplements;

3. Tell your doctor about any allergies or sensitivities that you may have; and

4. Read and follow the medicine label and directions.

And remember, even if you get home and realize that you still have questions about your prescription medications; it’s not too late. Do not hesitate to pick up the phone and call your doctor or revisit them – whichever is possible. Remember – when it comes to your health, there are no silly questions.

Visiting the pharmacy

Consumers have the right to information: This means that sellers and producers should always provide consumers with enough and appropriate information regarding the price, weight, company brand, manufacturing & expiry dates, quality identification marks, ingredients, contact links of the company or any other information which may be relevant so that consumer can make intelligent and informed decisions. In regards to purchasing medication from pharmacy, consumers should be furnished with accurate and adequate information about the medication they are purchasing. Some of the information which pharmacists must provide to consumers include;

• How to use the product?

• How often to use it and for how long?

• When to seek medical advice?

• What side-effects, if any, may be expected and what to do about them? and

• What medicines or other substances to avoid while using the product?

Do not be afraid to ask about anything that is not clear to you. Always tell your pharmacist if the medicine causes any kind of unpleasant reaction.

Consumer advice While prescription medications are provided to consumers only after consulting a doctor and with a written prescription, consumers are encouraged to visit their doctors if they are sick or showing symptoms of any diseases – no matter how minor you think it is. This would ensure that you get the proper care and advice you may require and prevent you from self-medicating. For any consumer queries, Fijians can contact the Council on toll-free number 155 or lodge a complaint using the Consumer Council of Fiji mobile app.