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Risk factor: Self-medication can help prevent simple coughs or colds, but it could also make matters worse. — AZLINA ABDULLAH/The Star

Self-medicating or consuming expired meds pose risks

PETALING JAYA: The rising trend of self-medication or consuming medicines that have expired may come with some risks, say health experts.

While it is common for people to keep a stash of medicines without prescription at hand, some also choose to spare unfinished medicines from a recent illness for future use. Sometimes, these medicines may be consumed even after it has passed its expiry date.

Even more worrying is that there are people turning to the Internet for self-diagnosis and to treat their symptoms.

Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia public health specialist Prof Dr Sharifa Ezat Wan Puteh said there are two sides to the coin when it comes to self-medication.

She said self-medication helps prevent minor conditions such as cough, cold or stomach ache from getting worse and, if consumed properly, it may reduce disease complications, cost and waiting time for seeking treatment at a healthcare facility.

However, she said people may consume medicines which are not appropriate for the condition such as antibiotics.

This, she said, may lead to more side effects.

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“This is one of the reasons why antibiotic resistance comes about and it may only do more harm,” she said.

As for steroids, she said these drugs could be dangerous if consumed wrongly or without prescription.

“It is best to obtain a prescription for steroids. If it is used for a long period, a person may be susceptible to other complications such as kidney problems, high blood pressure and Cushing disease.

“If it is used with doctor’s advice, it can be used to treat chronic ailments such as asthma, diseases related to the immune system and other conditions.

“That’s why, if unsure, get a doctor’s advice,” she said.

She added that consuming expired medicines may also lead to poisoning.

A study published in the International Journal of Pharmacy Practice 2021, which sampled 562 respondents in the Klang Valley, found that the overall prevalence of self-medication for minor ailments was 63.5%.

The study, “The prevalence and perception of self-medication among adults in the Klang Valley”, authored by Mok Chi Zen, Renukha Sellapans and Jason Siau of Taylor’s University School of Pharmacy found that about 68.6% respondents frequently obtained their medicines for self-medication of minor ailments from pharmacies, without consulting pharmacists.

This was followed by using leftover medications at home (44.8%) and obtaining medicines from friends and family (16%).

The study found that such behaviour is driven by good perception towards self-medication in terms of efficacy, safety and convenience, as well as through personal or shared experiences.

It said the prevalence of self-medication is high among adults in the Klang Valley.

Public health expert Datuk Dr Zainal Ariffin Omar said consuming expired medicine may lead to contamination and, in some cases, poisoning.

He said such medication could also affect the kidneys and heart, especially if the drug has been kept for too long or is potent.

He said medicines should not be consumed after six months.

“One study found that between 2000 and 2015, the US Poison Control Centers received roughly 32 calls a day about children accidentally ingesting opioids that had either been stored or disposed of incorrectly.

“Some common examples of medications that become toxic after expiry include certain antibiotics, for example tetracycline. Expired tetracycline can cause serious kidney damage,” he added.

Other examples include nitroglycerine, which is a form of heart medication, insulin, eye drops and epinephrine, also known as adrenaline. Epinephrine is a hormone and medication used in regulating visceral functions.

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self medication , health , drugs , Health Ministry


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