Painkillers come in different dosages and some combine, say, an opioid with acetaminophen (the active ingredient in Tylenol), he said. If the borrower is already taking an over-the-counter pain reliever, such as Tylenol, he or she could be doubling the dose of acetaminophen, Vaida said.
In one tragic case, a 6-year-old with neck pain was found unconscious in bed the day after her foster mother placed a leftover fentanyl patch on the girl's neck, ISMP reported. The child died before reaching the emergency room.
But pain medications are not the sole cause of unintentional consequences. Sharing eye-drops can result in the spread of infection, Vaida noted. Doling out leftover antibiotics can result in unnecessary treatment or treatment with the wrong antibiotic, he said. And taking someone else's anti-anxiety medicine without the proper warnings can cause unanticipated dizziness or sleepiness behind the wheel of a car.
A week ago, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) launched a new campaign aimed at reducing "preventable harm" from medication use. Taking medication meant for other people is among the potential dangers it highlighted.
"Too many people suffer unnecessary injuries from avoidable medication misuse, errors, and other problems," FDA Commissioner Dr. Margaret A. Hamburg said in a statement. FDA is launching the Safe Use Initiative to develop targeted solutions for reducing these injuries.
To find out whether drug sharing is putting people in harm's way, Goldsworthy had trained field agents conduct one-on-one interviews of almost 2,800 people in 11 different markets.
Of those who admitted to borrowing prescription medicines, many never got written (54.6 percent) or verbal (38.2 percent) warnings or instructions from the person loaning the medicine.
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