Research Nugget

Non-Medical Use of Prescription or over the Counter Medication among Employed South African Women

The non-medical use of prescribed and over-the-counter (OTC) medicines has increased over the years and is a global concern, especially among women in several developed and developing countries. Women have been found to be at unique risk, including a greater burden of dependency and relapse. While OTC and prescription medications are easily accessible and perceived as less harmful when compared to other illicit substances, they can lead to the development of substance use disorders (SUDs) and premature death or disability.

To understand the experiences and perceptions of employed South African women on the use of prescription or OTC medications for non-medical purposes, research partly funded by the NRF found that factors which contribute to misuse or non-medical use of medicines relate to: a lack of understanding of the risks, health professional prescribing practices, as well as challenging life circumstances.

The experiences of stress and anxiety associated with either work difficulties, balancing full-time work, mothering, parenting responsibilities, and underlying mental health issues are some of the reasons the women in the study gravitated towards the misuse or non-medical use of medicines. In addition, patient-dispenser and patient-prescriber relationships as well as overall knowledge and awareness was thought to be a driving force of the misuse and non-medical use of medication. Over-prescribing practices for physical problems such as for pain management as well as for mental health problems are thought to worsen the problem requiring more attention on the part of the prescriber and the dispensing pharmacist.

The study recommends that support for employed women at risk is needed, and one approach with potential in this area is the use of interactive web-based prevention programmes as a mechanism for enhancing knowledge and awareness as well as educating women on responsible use of medications. 

Read the full paper published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health here.