Rx Sharing Not Linked to Income

Myths about medication borrowing are dispelled by findings from a new study of urban populations.

Myths about medication borrowing are dispelled by findings from a new study involving urban populations.

The belief that medication borrowing is standard practice among urban, low-income patients is largely a misconception, suggests the results of a new study. Researchers at Temple University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania found that in this population, rates of using medicines prescribed to someone else were no higher than in more affluent populations.

The results of the study, published in the August 2011 issue of the Journal of Urban Health, defy a pervasive stereotype held by many in the health care field, authors said. "The perception was that those from a lower socioeconomic background would be more apt to use ill-gotten drugs, and we found that to not be the case," said Lawrence Ward, MD, MPH, lead study author and associate professor of medicine at the Temple University School of Medicine.

Dr. Ward and his team examined prescription borrowing habits among 641 participants who received outpatient, emergency, or inpatient care at a Philadephia health center. Of the total study popuilation, 75% were African American, 71% were high-school educated or less, and 68% lacked full-time employment.

More than 90% reported having health insurance, and 75% said they had recently visited their primary care provider. A total of 18% said they had ever taken a medication intended for another patient, the most common reason being convenience. Studies of medication borrowing among patients in other areas of the country and from more privileged backgrounds show similar results, the authors noted.

In cases where medications were borrowed, the most common source was a friend or family member. Pain medications were the most-borrowed drugs (74%), followed by drugs for anxiety and depression (14%), cardiovascular disease (9%), and infection (8%)."The respondents either couldn't get to their doctor's office, or couldn't get to the pharmacy in a reasonable amount of time, so the thought process was, if they could get medication from a family or friend, they wouldn't have to wait," said Dr. Ward.

The study is limited by its use of self-reported data, but the findings are a useful reminder to pharmacists who serve urban populations that medication borrowing is not limited--or necessarily more prevalant--among patients of any particular socioeconomic standing. At least 20% of patients do borrow prescription drugs, according to Dr. Ward, and health care professionals should take care to counsel all patients against the risky practice.

"Many patients might not realize the risk they take when using someone else's medication," Dr. Ward said.

For other articles in this issue, see:

  • Drug Spam Finds Easy Target in US Patients
  • Closing the Gender Gap in Pharmacy Ownership