In one-on-one interviews with 700 Americans, roughly 23 percent reported loaning their prescription medications to someone else, and 27 percent reported borrowing prescription medications.
The medications most frequently shared (loaned or borrowed) were allergy drugs like Allegra (25 percent), followed by pain medications like Darvoset and OxyContin (22 percent); and antibiotics like amoxicillin (21 percent).
Seven percent of those interviewed said they shared mood-altering drugs like Paxil, Zoloft, Ritalin and Valium. A little more than 6 percent said they shared the prescription anti-acne drug Accutane and about 5 percent shared birth control pills.
The finding that people share prescription medications "isn't terribly surprising; however, the extent of sharing was higher than we expected," study leader Dr. Richard Goldsworthy, Director of Research & Development at The Academic Edge, Inc. Bloomington, Indiana, told Reuters Health.
The findings were published online today by the American Journal of Public Health and are scheduled to appear in the June print issue of the journal.
"While ideally people should never share any medications, realistically, people do in fact share them and in many cases, such as allergy medicine, doing so is beneficial and carries little risk," Goldsworthy added.
On the other hand, sharing prescription medicine can be associated with significant risks. "We should probably never share antibiotics — a full course of treatment is supposed to be completed when you use them," he said. "If you, or someone you give them to, doesn't complete the course, then there is an increased likelihood the bacteria will develop resistance to the shared drug."
Certain classes of drugs are "teratogenic" — meaning they cause birth defects, sometimes even if taken a month before conception, he also warned. Therefore, those drugs, which include the anti-acne drug Accutane (known generically as isotretinoin) should never be shared.
"For pain relievers, allergy medicines, and other symptom-alleviating medications, if you are going to give someone a prescription medicine, you should be mindful to provide them with any instructions and warnings. Similarly, if you borrow one, you should worry about how to take it and when not to do so," Goldsworthy suggested. "If you borrow prescription medicine, tell your tell your doctor about it."
The survey also showed that Whites (23 percent) and Hispanics (26 percent) were more apt to share prescription pain medicines than were African Americans (14 percent). Women were more apt than men to share antibiotics (24 percent vs 12 percent).
People seemed most willing to share prescription medicine when the medication came from a family member, they had a prescription for a particular medication but ran out of it or did not have it with them, or they had an emergency.