Educating Patients About the Dangers of Sharing Rx Medications

SEPTEMBER 28, 2018
Cmdr. John Burke
With school back in session, concerns about prescription medications are top of mind.

Some of the most commonly shared medications at universities are the drugs to treat attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), which have been used and abused by college students for decades. Students known to have prescriptions for drugs to treat ADHD may be pressured to share by others who want to use these medications to increase their focus on schoolwork. 

This may seem relatively harmless if a student procures just 1 pill to help study for a big exam the next day. But what happens when there are several pills left in the bottle?

Of course, there are many problems with sharing prescription medications, whether it is among students or even family members or neighbors. The first and most obvious one is that it is illegal. In some states, including Ohio, giving or selling even 1 pill of any prescription drug to another person is a felony, even if given freely. Notice I said any prescription drug and not just controlled substances.

The second potential problem is an adverse reaction in the person who receives and takes the pill. The individual may be taking other medications that, unknown to the person who is sharing, have serious interactions with another drug. These resulting reactions could land a person in an emergency department or a hospital bed and in extreme cases can be fatal.

Depending on the severity of an adverse reaction, civil liability in addition to criminal liability becomes a very real possibility. If a student overdoses on a drug that your kid gave him or her, you could get sued in civil court.

Of course, students do not corner the market on sharing prescription medications. People who sometimes think that they are being Good Samaritans will share medications with family members or friends. Often these misguided individuals think that they are helping someone who has insomnia or is in pain and do not consider the potential consequences. Unfortunately, such good intentions may not prevent an adverse reaction, a hefty lawsuit, or a criminal charge.

So what is the answer? Educating people about the dangers of sharing their medications is critical. This may be particularly true for college students who are away from home for the first time. They should be told about the potential consequences of sharing medications and instructed to keep any drugs they have locked up and a secret. They also need to know that it is illegal to solicit or receive prescription medications not prescribed to them. Ideally, this information would be conveyed to college students as part of the mailings sent to them before they arrive on campus and/or during orientation sessions. Prominent warnings about the danger of sharing medications should also be posted on college bulletin boards.

In addition, a brochure or a notice at every pharmacy, describing the fact that sharing medications is dangerous and illegal and that it presents a potential legal liability, might go a long way in deterring people from engaging in this behavior. The practice of sharing medications is likely much more pervasive than we realize, so providing education about the perils of doing so should be a priority. 
Cmdr. John Burke is a 40-year veteran of law enforcement, the past president of the National Association of Drug Diversion Investigators, and the president and cofounder of the International Health Facility Diversion Association. He can be reached by email at burke@rxdiversion.com or via rxdiversion.com.

 

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