Overheard On Campus: Why is it risky to share prescription medication if two people have the same condition?

Contributed by Brooke Vanevenhoven, R.N., M.S.N., A.P.N.P., & Daniel Gittins, M.A.
Introduction by Tyler Achilles, B.A.

Valid question. Unless you know for sure that you absolutely have the same condition (and you’re not just self-diagnosing and/or self-medicating), then I would definitely think it risky to take a medication prescribed to someone else. Even if you’ve been properly diagnosed for the same condition, it’s still risky because different people require different dosages. Did I also mention it’s illegal to share prescription medications? Yeah, illegal. But I bet a lot of students don’t know that. I’ll let the experts elaborate on what I’m trying to say …

Prescription drugs in medicine cabinetBrooke Vanevenhoven, a nurse practitioner at University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, says …

On the surface it seems harmless for two people to share medication for the same condition. I hear this so often in my practice: “My friend has ADD so I tried her medication and it worked really well.” In some instances, that may be the case, but it doesn’t make it a safe habit to get into. For one thing, it’s illegal to share prescription medications. The prescription is written and intended only for the patient whose name is on the bottle. Next, if your friend is truly benefiting from his or her medication, is it right to take it? Doesn’t he or she need it? These issues just scratch the surface in terms of problems that could arise.

Now think of your own body. Do you know if you are allergic to any components of the medication you are sharing with your friend? Have you actually been diagnosed with the same condition or do you just suspect that you have the symptoms? Mental health conditions often vary in their presentation. ADHD and anxiety present similarly, and without diagnosis by a trained professional, you may take ADHD medication that would actually make your anxiety symptoms much worse. Finally, you need to consider possible side effects and medication interactions. If you’re taking another prescription or over-the-counter medication, you could be putting yourself at risk for negative medication interaction. Certain medications can put a patient at risk for weight gain, insomnia, or even cardiac arrythmia.

Bottom line, do not take medication that isn’t prescribed to you and don’t share the medication that is. See your provider, have your symptoms evaluated, and use the treatment that is recommended for you. If you’re dissatisfied with your current treatment, discuss alternatives with your provider before trying them on your own.

Daniel Gittins, coordinator of alcohol and drug programs at Duquesne University, says …

Prescriptions are given to one individual at a time. There are very real risks associated with medications. Just listen to the commercials for prescriptions on TV; the first part of the commercial is about potential benefits, and the second part is a list of risks and side effects. Even if the side effects are slight, they are real. A medication is prescribed with the understanding that the medical personnel know your medical history. They don’t know the history of all the other people you choose to share the medication with.

An example: if a doctor prescribes a stimulant, that medication will have primary benefits but also secondary effects, such as elevated blood pressure, faster heart rate, etc. For person A, whom the medication is prescribed to, it’s assumed that the medical benefits outweigh the risks of the secondary effects. If person B borrows person A’s medication, and is unfamiliar with their medical history – such as family history of high blood pressure, stress, or heart concerns – the risks can be far more significant for person B. Essentially, it’s dangerous to share your medications, so be careful of the risks.

From what the experts are saying, I don’t think it’s a good idea for you to share your prescription medications with anyone. If you have shared them in the past, I would make sure you don’t do it again in the future. I mean you could be hurting your friend, and no one wants to do that, right? Write a comment below or click here for more Overheard On Campus posts.