Alarming numbers are disregarding vital information about medicines they take. Katie Baldwin reports.
You have a headache, or you pick up a prescription, and pop a tablet without even thinking about reading the leaflet inside the box.
Most of us have probably been guilty of this at some point – but according to pharmacists, we could be risking our lives.
New research by The Co-Operative Pharmacy found that nationally nearly half of men did not read patient information before taking over-the-counter medication, while almost a third didn’t bother for prescription medicines.
That can have serious implications, with more than a quarter of people living in Yorkshire ignoring warnings of drowsiness.
Worryingly, nearly 20 per cent admitted they had driven or operated machinery when the leaflet specifically said to avoid the activities.
Janice Perkins, superintendent pharmacist at The Co-operative Pharmacy, said: “We have identified that a significant number of people are putting themselves and others in serious danger by ignoring safety warnings.
“People should always read the patient information leaflet that comes with their medicine – whether it’s prescribed or not – as a number of medicines bought over the counter can contain potent ingredients that interact with other medication.
“Failure to do so is like playing Russian roulette with your health.”
It can also lead to major errors, with incidences reported of patients eating suppositories and pessaries.
People had also taken medicines orally that are meant to be inhaled, tried to squirt the contents of inhalers up their nose or even giving human medicines being given to pets.
Neil Auld, pharmacist at The Co-operative Pharmacy in Queensway, Morley, said one issue they often encountered was people on blood pressure medication asking for cold remedies containing decongestants.
“These people should always seek professional guidance from their pharmacist rather than buying cold and flu products off the shelf, as some decongestants should not be taken with blood pressure medicines,” he said. He warned that the 16 per cent of people who admitted they had taken medication prescribed for someone else could be dicing with death.
“If a person has been prescribed medication then they will have answered a series of questions asked by their prescriber, specifically related to their own health,” Neil said.
“The prescriber will also understand the individual’s medical history therefore people should never take medicine prescribed for +someone else as it could be fatal.
“Often people think that it is alright to share medication if someone has similar symptoms but the condition that the medicine has been prescribed for may not be the same.”
The pharmacist said it was crucial that people read, and followed, patient information leaflets in any medication.
“Individuals may not think that over-the-counter the medicines can pose problems but if you are taking more than one medicine, there is always a chance that they can interact to cause side effects.
“The patient information leaflet which comes with a medicine sets out key messages which ensure safe and effective medicine-taking. This is a living document which changes as new information is known about a medicine and pharmacists are ideally placed to discuss this with patients so they can optimise their medicines management for best clinical effect.
“If a medicine is not taken as directed it can mean a person isn’t getting the full benefit from their medicine and this can have dangerous consequences if the medicine doesn’t give the desired effect.”
He warned that taking medicines with or without food can alter the way they worked, or cause side effects.
Alcohol can also interact with some drugs and cause drowsiness which may be a danger to those using machinery or driving.
Talking to the pharmacist, or asking for a free medicines check, in a private room if required, was the best way to avoid problems, Neil added.
“Pharmacists always provide information about the medicine at the point of supply, whether it has been prescribed or purchased over-the-counter,” he said.
Get the lowdown
The survey found:
28 per cent of people in Yorkshire ignored drowsiness warnings on medication
16 doubled the dosage of their medicine because they didn’t think it was working as intended.
21 per cent ignored dosage instructions highlighted on the pack of over-the-counter medicines.
Nationally 48 per cent of those aged 18 to 24 did not read patient information on across the counter medicines.