Don’t be your own doctor, medical experts caution

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KUALA LUMPUR — Whether it is prescription medicine or an aspirin that is easily available over-the-counter (OTC), consumers should not be so casual about taking medication, medical practitioners said.

They said learning about one’s symptoms from the Internet and subsequently purchasing a particular drug to treat the symptoms could have an adverse effect or possibly lead to death.

“I am not saying everybody who (self) prescribes will die, but you are putting yourself at risk. You might be allergic to something and the pill you take could aggravate the condition,” former health minister Datuk Seri Dr S. Subramaniam said.

“There are so many issues concerning this, so self-prescription is a no-no in Malaysia, except for drugs which we have already identified as those that you can buy over-the-counter,” he said.

Malaysian Pharmaceutical Society president Amrahi Buang said the availability of Google and medical research sites has created a sense of self-confidence among people who then prescribe medication for themselves.

“But this is not safe. Consumers should seek pharmacists’ advice even when purchasing OTC drugs,” he told Malay Mail.

Amrahi explained that there are generally three categories of drugs, of which only Group B drugs require a doctor’s prescription.

For Group B, he said, only a doctor can prescribe medication for ailments, which include cardiac and high blood pressure conditions.

But a pharmacist can dispense Group B medicines if a patient shows a doctor’s prescription.

“Without a doctor’s prescription, a pharmacist cannot dispense Group B medicines like Xanax or antibiotics,” he said.

Amrahi said a pharmacist can however prescribe and dispense Group C medications for minor illnesses, such as fungal infections, mild headaches and flu.

“Pharmacists are drug experts as they ensure the safety, quality and efficacy of the process of dispensing medicines because only pharmacists sit for the Poisons Act test,” he said.

OTC drugs are common drugs or multi-vitamins.

“Even for OTC drugs, I suggest that consumers seek a pharmacist’s advice. For example, there are different types of drugs to treat different types of headaches … Paracetamol is not the only medication,” Amrahi said.

Is it against the law for a pharmacist to dispense Group B drugs?

Malaysian Medical Association president Dr Ravindran Naidu said a pharmacist can be fined and/or even have his or her licence suspended if found to have broken the law.

Dr Ravindran explained why it is important that a patient consults a doctor before consuming a particular type of medicine.

“Doctors don’t keep giving the same drug without reviewing (the condition of his or her patients) and sometimes changing (the dosage or type of medications),” he said.

“Just taking the same medicine your doctor first prescribed often results in complications.”

Under the Poisons Act 1952, a person found guilty of wilfully failing to keep any prescription book or making false entries in the book can be fined up to RM5,000 or jailed not exceeding two years, or both.

Dr Subramaniam pointed out that it is a crime for anyone to purchase antibiotics or Group B medicines from a pharmacy without a doctor’s prescription.

“So if there is any pharmacy or any clinic which sells you an antibiotic without a doctor’s prescription, they are committing a crime and action can be taken against them,” he said.

Malay Mail recently visited several pharmacies and found several that dispensed Group B drugs without a doctor’s prescription.

Some of them also did not require the buyer to fill in the prescription book upon buying these controlled medicines.

The prescription book is kept for record purposes and to show the amount and brand of Group B and C medicines dispensed to a particular individual.

One way to solve this and avoid self-prescription, Dr Ravindran said, is to create an awareness campaign to explain the dangers of self-medicating.

“Patient education is important, but so is education of the pharmacists who give drugs without prescription,” he said.