Thanks to advertising and word-of-mouth publicity, prescribing medical treatment is no longer the sole prerogative of doctors. In fact, self-medication is considered more or less adequate for mild to moderately-serious ailments.
There are very few people, for instance, who would consult a physician before popping a pain-killer for a headache. They’d simply go to their friendly neighbourhood chemist and pick up a strip of tablets.
In most cases — such as mild pain-killers and digestives — it’s harmless to keep medical practitioners out of the loop. The problem is that in such a situation, local chemists have begun to fill in for absentee doctors, doling out advice and prescribing medication based on a superficial description of an ailment.
Akrithi, an investment banker, points out that it isn’t uncommon to see someone consulting a chemist before deciding on what drug to pick up.
“Earlier, people were scared to play around with medicines before checking with a doctor. But now, we’re treated to ads on the television telling us which pain-killer works best and which hospital has the best facilities for surgery. People go directly to chemists and discuss what medication to take with them. Since most of them visit the same neighbourhood chemist, they build a rapport with them and the chemist, in turn, rarely asks for a doctor’s prescription before selling drugs,” she notes, going on to add that on the whole, she’s wary of this casual approach to medication.
“At the end of the day, allopathic drugs are powerful and have side-effects. It doesn’t make sense to take them without getting the advice of a medical professional — something which a chemist definitely isn’t,” she states.
The other danger with picking up medicine based solely on a chemist’s advice is that they often prescribe a drug for their own financial motives. “At the end of the day, they’re running a business. They want to sell as much stock as possible. If a patient seeks advice on what medication to take, the average chemist would suggest something both expensive and unnecessary,” points out Miriam, a homemaker.
Dr Mallika Raghavendra, a psychiatrist, explains that the root of the problem is that doctors’ prescriptions are rarely a part of transactions at most medical stores.
“Some over-the-counter drugs can be picked up by the general public but others — like sleeping tablets, epilepsy medication and the like — can be bought only by producing a prescription. The problem is that people don’t always consult doctors before picking them up and many chemists don’t ask for a prescription anymore,” she explains.
Since she has worked in the field of addiction, she has seen cases of patients exploiting this negligence to obtain drugs.
“It’s quite common with sleeping tablets. Technically speaking, a chemist is supposed to ask for a prescription before selling someone this medication and then stamp the prescription so that it can’t be used at another store. But they rarely do it, which is why addicts take the same prescription to four or five different stores,” she says.
This, of course, is the worst case scenario. Kavitha Bajaj, a nutritionist and financial advisor, believes that most of the time, this sort of self-medication is harmless.
“For commonly-used medication like Paracetamol and the like, there’s an understanding between the chemist and customer. Most chemists are familiar with their customers, since many are regulars. The problem arises when harmful drugs are being sold without prescription. Otherwise, it’s simply a matter of convenience,” she concludes.