Lloydspharmacy has issued a warning over the dangers of taking medicines prescribed for someone else after research revealed that millions of doses are passed on to friends and family every year.

Research conducted by the community pharmacy unveiled that, shockingly, 37 million doses of painkillers, antibiotics, heart drugs and other powerful medicines have been handed over by patients to other people in the last five years, raising serious concerns over safety.

The potential dangers of so-called ‘amateur prescribing’ are multi-dimensional and potentially fatal. In the first instance, the active ingredient of the drug could cause an allergic reaction or be contra-indicated with other medicines being taken by the recipient. In addition, the ‘diagnosis’ could be incorrect in the first place, leaving the true root of the problem untreated.

Another serious issue is that, in many cases, prescription medicines passed on to other people are out of date. According to research by Llyodspharmacy, in 2008 there were over 40 million doses of prescription medicines out of date in medicine cabinets across the nation, also posing a potential risk to those taking them.

“You’d think that everyone instinctively understands the potential danger in giving a prescription medicine to a friend or relative, but according to our research more than 6.3 million people have done just that,” commented Andy Murdock, Pharmacy Relations and Governance Director of Lloydspharmacy. “If you cross the wrong drug with the wrong person, the results could be awful, even fatal,” he stressed.

A significant factor fuelling the trend of amateur prescribing is poor treatment compliance; recent evidence suggests between 30% and 50% of long-term therapies are not taken properly, not only marking a huge waste of medicines and NHS resources but seemingly also contributing to the problem by leaving patients with ‘spare’ drugs that can easily be passed on to friends and family.

In addition, it seems that the practice is most common among elderly patients and those on lower incomes, which, Llyodspharmacy suggests, indicates prescription costs may be also be a factor, providing further ammunition for those campaigning for the prescription charge to be dropped in England, as is the case in Wales and as is already planned for Scotland.