Maybe your back hurts, so you take some ibuprofen. Someone tells you it’s ok to take 3 or 4, so you do, and it doesn’t help. So, two hours later you take another four tablets. That’s ok, right?
Or, you have some prescription pain medication your Primary Care provider prescribed, and your bottle says to take one tablet every 6-8 hours. But you really hurt, so you take two every 4 hours instead. That’s ok, right?
Perhaps you ran out of your blood pressure medicine. Your spouse has the same medication, but in a higher strength, so you just cut off a bit of his tablet to get what you think is your dose. That’s ok, right?
You’re at a barbecue and twist your ankle playing volleyball, and it swells up and really hurts. You don’t want to leave the party, and your host says offers you one of her pain pills to help until you can see your healthcare provider. That’s ok, right?
These are common things that patients tell me they do, thinking that it’s harmless. But this is known as medication misuse, and there can be several reasons that it’s not ok. Let’s look at the different stories above.
Taking more than the recommended amount of any medication—prescription or over-the-counter-- is considered an overdose. Medication, even over-the-counter, can be dangerous if you take too much, or take it too often. For example, too much ibuprofen can cause increased bleeding, especially in the stomach. It can raise blood pressure. It also can damage the kidneys. Too much prescription pain medication may make you too groggy, leading to falls or injury, and slow or even stop your breathing. If the recommended dose of medicines isn’t working, a higher dose won’t work either, and may be dangerous.
Taking someone else’s medication is also unsafe. In the case of taking a family member’s medication and cutting the pill, you can’t be sure you are getting your correct dose. Also, some pills are not meant to be cut. They have a special coating that releases the medication slowly in the body, over time. When you cut and take the pill, you release all the medication at once, which can lead to terrible side effects or even overdose. Taking a prescription medication from a friend is also unwise, especially if it’s something you’ve never had before. You may have an allergy to it, or it may interact with other medications you are taking, leading to severe reactions that could make you sick or even land you in the hospital.
The bottom line is that taking medications the way they are prescribed or recommended is essential to your safety. Taking prescription medications that aren’t prescribed for you can be extremely dangerous. Please, take care of yourself and call your healthcare provider if medication isn’t working for you, or if you run out of your prescription. And don’t take other people’s pills or offer yours to friends or family—it may harm more than help. Don’t be fooled into thinking medication misuse is okay; there is a very real possibility it could hurt you or those you love.