Danger lurks when you abandon prescription pills

When Stephanie Mukampabuka had fever, she was prescribed pills for four days. “I had a very bad cough. I could cough all day and night, but when after taking the medication for a few days I felt better, I stopped taking them,” she says. Mukampabuka, a resident of Kayonza District in Eastern Province, says even before she used to share medicines with her neighbors when she was sick.
For many people, once they begin to feel fine after a bout of illness, taking medication becomes ‘useless’ but this is dangerous because the disease can recur.  Net photo.
For many people, once they begin to feel fine after a bout of illness, taking medication becomes ‘useless’ but this is dangerous because the disease can recur. Net photo.

When Stephanie Mukampabuka had fever, she was prescribed pills for four days.

“I had a very bad cough. I could cough all day and night, but when after taking the medication for a few days I felt better, I stopped taking them,” she says.

Mukampabuka, a resident of Kayonza District in Eastern Province, says even before she used to share medicines with her neighbors when she was sick.

“Because the hospital is far, there is no need to walk further for a simple illness, so we used to share prescribed pills in area,” says Mukampabuka.

But things backfired when weekes later, the illness recurred. There was chest pain and coughing was a hard call. She had to be taken to hospital as the illness worsened.

“I was diagnosed with lung infections, and I had to stay in the hospital for some weeks under observation,” she recalls.

That was last year, but Mukampabuka says it was the worst illness she had ever experienced just because she neglected pills as prescribed.

Examined for others

Priscille Ntakirutimana, a sociology graduate, has a different story to tell.

Ntakirutimana says for four years she spent at Huye campus, she went to see doctor seven times, saying most of the time she went for her classmates or roommates behalf.

“When my classmates or roommates heard I had to go to a doctor they wrote down for me, their illnesses I would tell doctor then after being diagnosed I told doctor more illnesses I had, he gave me dosage written,” she narrates.

Ntakirutimana says because doctor did not have time to examine all illnesses I had told him, he just prescribed for me a list of medicines to buy in the pharmacy.

She says students likely to send someone else to be diagnosed for them because they fear queuing at health post center while others decide not to go there because they do not have health insurances.

The most frequently misused medications are painkillers such as OxyContin and Vicodin; central nervous system depressants used for anxiety and sleep disorders (Valium and Ativan) and stimulants that treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and narcolepsy.

The dangers

According to Prof. David Taylor, scientific coordinator of Healthy Futures, a health, environmental change and adaptive capacity project, on whatever one takes or borrows someone else’s drugs to be soothed or misusing a prescription drug, all have dangerous consequences. 

“When one does not take medicines, such as antibiotics (including malaria treatments), exactly as prescribed lead to the killing of some of bacteria. The surviving bacteria become more resistant to the drug and can be spread to other people, when bacteria become resistant to drugs, the risk of complications and death is increased,” he said.

Prof. Taylor says in the online article that if people are taking someone else’s medication, a doctor would not examine them and give drugs or dosage for their specific needs. 

“Drugs affect everyone in different ways. It is possible that a drug that works for your mate can trigger an adverse reaction in you,” says, Prof. Taylor.

He pointed out that the failure of first line antibiotics also means that doctors have to resort to less conventional medications, many of which are more costly and associated with more serious side effects. 

Other consequences are the increased costs associated with prolonged illnesses, including expenses for additional tests, treatments and hospitalisation.

Besides this, the danger that lurks in not completing medication is not just limited to the illness for which it was being treated lying domant and recurring soon after, but also goes into medicines reuse.

Usually, many people keep pills as leftovers and use them again in the future. 

But medics warn that this is dangerous because one will not be sure of the diagnosis or even whether the drugs are expired in the case of some prescriptions.

Also, drug efficacy wanes as soon as the batch is opened, meaning reuse could be as good as nothing at all since the drug will have lost its ability to fight the disease. 

This explains why on many ocassions, doctors indicate the duration within which the drug has be used. Past such a deadline means the drug has to be discarded.

What should be done

Dr Fulgence  Nkikabahizi, a director of Rwinkwavu hospital in Kayonza District, says medics should explain to the patient all about the illness before prescribing medicines, saying many do not know how to read.

He said when they stop taking pills as prescribed; when they get worse they better come back to the hospital to take new doze.

“When one was suffering from malaria and stop pills given as soon as begins to feel good, when one get worse, thus, should come back for the consultation so that a doctor assesses and prescribes a new type of medicine,” Dr Nkikabahizi said.

The doctor says people should not to take the same medicines they were using before because they have no immunity to kill disease anymore.

Dr Nkikabahizi specifically noted that in rural areas where there are many illiterate people, medicines are shared and cases of people abandoning prescribed pills after few days when they feel good are higher.

“One cannot blame patients for not taking all medicines as prescribe, they do not have enough information on how to use medicines, as medical doctors it is our task to make them aware, he said.

 

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