Abu Dhabi, UAE: Expatriate children as young as 7 are risking their lives by taking antibiotics and other medicines without a prescription or consulting a doctor.
As many as nine in 10 expatriate teenagers habitually self-medicate, exposing themselves to potential misdiagnosis, overdose, drug addiction and serious health complaints, the results of a study suggest.
The children obtain drugs from their parents’ medicine cabinets, or illegally buy antibiotics from pharmacies without a prescription, which the study’s authors say is particularly alarming.
Emirati children were not covered by the study, but one doctor said self-medication was an issue for them, too.
“I’ve come across some Emirati children who obtain antibiotics without a prescription at pharmacies,” said Dr Lata Balkrishna Borude, a specialist in internal medicine at Burjeel Hospital in Abu Dhabi.
“The role of pharmacists is important in terms of raising awareness about the risks of self-medication. They should not give these children antibiotics and other medicines without a prescription.”
The study’s authors have also urged stricter pharmacy controls and better education about the potential dangers of taking drugs without medical advice.
“The prevalence rate of self-medication with prescribed and over-the-counter medications was almost 90 per cent,” said Dr Syed Shehnaz, assistant professor at the Gulf Medical University in Ajman and co-author of the study.
“If done responsibly and appropriately, self-medication with over-the-counter drugs is acceptable among the adult population. However, adolescents are still not quite knowledgeable about the use of medicines and the chances of bad effects with a wrong dose or the wrong drug for the wrong health complaint may result in serious situations.”
The study suggests that girls are more likely than boys to self-medicate, and headaches, flu-like symptoms and fever are the most common conditions for which children take unprescribed medicines.
The children surveyed were in grades 9 to 12 in four private schools. Most were about 16 or 17 years old.
A majority, 58.6 per cent, began self-medicating after the age of 13, but 32.5 per cent began between the ages of 10 and 13 and – 8.9 per cent between the ages of 7 and 10.
More than half, 54 per cent, admitted taking antibiotics obtained without a prescription or medical advice. “This is alarming,” said Dr Shehnaz.
“The general population is also reported to be self-medicating frequently, with antibiotics acquired from community pharmacies without prescriptions, although the over-the-counter dispensing of antibiotics is illegal.
“Inappropriate self-medication with antibiotics and the overall volume of antibiotic consumption in the community have serious implications in the development of antibiotic resistance.
“The prescription medicines, which can only be bought through a registered medical doctor’s prescription, are not meant to be self-medicated as their use may result in adverse effects that may be life-threatening.”
More than a quarter of the children surveyed, 27 per cent, used sedatives or hypnotic drugs without consulting a doctor and there was a high prevalence of those self-medicating drugs for allergies or insomnia.
The young people surveyed suffered about eight health complaints a year and self-medicated with about five drugs during that time.
The study examined the prevalence of self-medication with both prescribed and non-prescribed medication; related health complaints; sources of drugs and sources of drug recommendation; and gender differences related to self-medication among expatriate high-school pupils.
A sample group of 324 children took part, between 2011 and 2013. The other co-authors, all from the Gulf Medical University, are Nelofer Khan, associate professor from the department of biochemistry; Jayadevan Sreedharan, assistant director of the statistical support facility and professor of biostatistics; and Khaled Issa and Mohammed Arifulla, head of the pharmacology department.
The authors believe more such studies would be useful. “The healthcare habits adopted during adolescence may be carried over into adulthood,” said Dr Shehnaz.
“Moreover, adolescents may indulge in autonomous health behaviour, use medicine irrationally, without adult guidance, and also misuse over-the-counter and prescription drugs to get high.”
The study concluded that, as an accurate diagnosis should come only from a medical professional and that some medicines could become addictive if wrongly administered, more education was needed about taking medication responsibly.
“Healthcare providers, pharmacists, educators and parents should be actively involved in early health-education strategies for establishing responsible use of medicines in this age group,” said Dr Shehnaz.
“The extensive use of antibiotics and sedative/hypnotics indicates a necessity for educational health programmes emphasising the risks associated with their irrational use and strict enforcement of federal laws regarding the dispensing of these drugs.”
© The NationalJan 2014