Study breaks down stereotypes of urban medication borrowing

Temple researchers recently published a study, disproving myths that areas of low socioeconomic status, such as North Philadelphia, are prone to medication borrowing.

A recent study by Temple researchers disproves the stereotype that low-income, urban populations are more prone to medication borrowing – the practice of taking medicine prescribed to others.

Lawrence Ward, who led and co-authored the study sponsored by Temple’s Center for Minority Health and Health Disparities, said that rates of medication borrowing in Main Campus’ surrounding community are the same, if not a bit lower, than other studies that reported these behaviors.

“What our study showed was that results for our population in North Philadelphia were about the same as they are nationally for more affluent populations,” Ward, an associate professor at the School of Medicine, said. “Despite our population being of lower socioeconomic status, there wasn’t any difference in terms of medication borrowing than people in the nation as a whole.”

The study, recently published in the Journal of Urban Health, was conducted during a five-month period, from March through August 2008, at four different Temple clinic locations: an outpatient medical clinic, a faculty practice, the resident facility and the inpatient hospital ward. Patients seeking healthcare at these sites were asked a series of questions about their medication borrowing history and behaviors.

“We wanted to see why patients borrow medication that is specifically not prescribed by their healthcare professional to them,” said Nima Patel-Shori, co-author of the study and an associate professor at the School of Pharmacy. “We also wanted to see where [they got] their medication and why [they] borrow medication, because it could have a significant impact on their health in terms of adverse drug reactions, in terms of lack of efficacy.”

Overall, 641 patients were interviewed. Of the respondents surveyed, 75 percent were African American. Thirty percent of respondents did not complete high school, 30 percent completed some kind of college coursework and 30 percent were employed full-time.

Although the study did not show a difference in medication-borrowing rates, Ward said that his team of researchers discovered that one out of five people were found to have taken medication not prescribed to them – a number they found troubling.

Patel-Shori said the most common reason people borrowed prescription medication was because of convenience; people were more likely to obtain it from family members or friends.

“There is this perception within the academic world or even with doctors that if you borrow medication and you live in an inner-city or urban area, it must be because you’re some kind of drug abuser,” Patel-Shori said.

The most common drugs borrowed included opiate narcotics, pain medication and antibiotics.

Ward and Patel-Shori said that this study showed that health care providers should improve their accessibility to patients and make it easier for them to get prescription medication.

“Otherwise people might go ahead and do things like this without knowing it might be bad for them,” Ward noted.

Gail Harris, who works as an office coordinator at the School of Dentistry, disagrees with the belief that people from lower-income households would be more likely to borrow prescription medication from a friend of family member.

“I think that it doesn’t matter how much money someone has,” Harris said. “I think people have enough knowledge to know it’s dangerous to share medication.”

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