The Scary Truth About Sharing Pills

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According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, just over 36 percent of women aged 18 to 44 admit that they've borrowed or shared prescription drugs. One survey by the research firm Academic Edge found that the five most frequently shared prescription drug types were painkillers, allergy medicines, antibiotics, mood or anxiety medications, and acne medications.

As Amy Ross and her lawyer friends are uncomfortably aware -- though other sharers often aren't -- it's illegal for anyone without a license to dispense prescription meds, even for free, or for anyone without a prescription to take them. (Both are class E federal felonies, punishable by up to five years in prison.) Sharing can also be dangerous because even seemingly innocuous drugs can cause unexpected side effects or interact disastrously with other medications. Which raises the question: Why do so many women do it?

Experts point to a variety of factors. The first is the increased number of people taking prescription drugs. Since 1999 U.S. spending on prescription medications has more than doubled, to $234 billion. "Ten years ago you might have been the only person on your block taking a prescription drug," says psychiatrist Neil Capretto, DO, medical director at Gateway Rehabilitation Center in Aliquippa, Pennsylvania. "Now there's simply more opportunity to share."

There's also a wider variety of prescription drugs on the market and more public awareness of all those options, since the Food and Drug Administration decided in the late '90s to allow drug companies to advertise to consumers. The "ask your doctor" ads helped launch an era of consumer-driven medicine, says Kaitlin Bell Barnett, author of Dosed: The Medication Generation Grows Up. Patients used to just take their physician's advice. "Now people are more proactive in doing research about medications. There's a sense of feeling educated about your own body and symptoms."

Continued on page 3:  Dangerous Habits


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