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If misused, drugs pose health risks



(AFP) – When they take medication, many French people do not respect the doses, seek advice from a loved one rather than a professional or use an expired product. However, badly used, a treatment can prove to be dangerous for health.

What do we know about the misuse of drugs by the French?

According to a study carried out in 2021 for the National Medicines Agency (ANSM), three out of ten French people adapt, by themselves, the dose or duration of the drugs prescribed to them.

One in five French people takes higher doses or several drugs at the same time to relieve symptoms more quickly.

Nearly one in two French people give medicine to a loved one because they have similar symptoms, one in ten even does it systematically or often.

And 34% consider it low risk to take an expired drug.

What are the risks ?

Not respecting the instructions can reduce the effectiveness of the drugs, cause undesirable effects, even aggravation of the disease, underlines the ANSM, which launches Wednesday a campaign on their good use. A “major public health issue”, according to its general manager, Christelle Ratignier-Carbonneil.

“Even paracetamol can be dangerous: in the event of an overdose, the person risks their life,” warned Catherine Simonin, administrator at France Assos Santé, associated with the campaign.

“There is always a notion of risk-benefit, a drug is never harmless”, also insists Carine Wolf-Thal, president of the national council of the Order of pharmacists.

Prescribed or recommended for one person, drugs may prove useless or harmful for another. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen or aspirin, which are among the most used treatments in self-medication, are for example prohibited in pregnant women. After the 5th month of pregnancy, a single dose can lead to the death of the future baby.

Once expired or poorly stored, medicines can also lose their effectiveness or be contaminated by bacteria.

What are the right steps to take?

In its campaign – “drugs are not ordinary products, do not take them lightly” – the ANSM advocates four reflexes to adopt.

It recommends respecting the prescription or the advice of the health professional (dose, frequency, duration, etc.).

It encourages the use of only drugs prescribed or recommended by a caregiver, and not by one of his relatives.

She recommends not taking several medications at the same time without the advice of a professional.

Finally, it invites attention to the terms and duration of conservation of medicines. A drug must be returned to the pharmacy when it is expired or not used. It should not be thrown in the trash or down the toilet.

What do manufacturers think?

For the industry, the proper use of drugs is an “essential element for optimizing their therapeutic value”, summarizes Eric Baseilhac, president of the association for the proper use of drugs and director of economic and international affairs at Leem ( Federation of Pharmaceutical Companies).

He assures that to avoid causing confusion and mixtures, manufacturers take care to “make the drugs very distinguishable from each other”.

But “there is still progress to be made in terms of therapeutic education”, he concedes.

What avenues for improvement?

“Tomorrow, if we had digital leaflets, we could very easily, with QR codes, send patients to watch short therapeutic education films for a drug that is a bit complex to take,” suggests Mr. Baseilhac. He cites the example of inhaled treatments for chronic bronchial diseases, sometimes used by a young audience and not always very easy to handle.

Leem is working on a project for the proper use of medication in cases of angina, which should see the light of day in early 2024.

“We imagined a voluntary care pathway that would allow the patient to go directly to his pharmacist in the event of a sore throat. He will have the possibility of carrying out a rapid test to determine if its origin is bacterial or viral”, explains Mr. Baselhac.

“This will make it possible to optimize the prescription of antibiotics wisely when today they are over-prescribed”, which, he recalls, is “catastrophic in terms of antibiotic resistance”.

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