One important factor that should be reiterated to all Kenyans and maybe all over the world is that keeping a bulk of medicines at home doesn’t make you healthy. This is a recently prevalent behaviour that is on the rise among urban city dwellers in Nairobi and especially those who have ready access to pharmacies and chemists.
It would be surprising, however, that this closeness to both pharmacies and chemists still makes them want to store drugs at home in bulk, something that someone who maybe lives in rural Kenya may be excused part of.
All medicines are poisons, and thus the reason our regulatory body for medicines is called Pharmacy and poisons board. A basic erudition is that all medicines are poisons, and not all poisons are medicines. What we mean is that when a medicine is kept under some conditions or is altered in any way, it can become fatal to the human body. Medicines are made from chemical agents that have been modified to be both pharmacokinetically and pharmacologically active. They act on specific body receptors and not all. An example is an antihypertensive drug such as propranolol, which should not be given to asthmatic patients because it acts on two types of body receptors; heart and lungs. The discovery, manufacture, sale, and storage of medicines must be done with all expertise and care.
Medicines in pharmacies are stored under regulated conditions, and parameters like temperature and humidity must be taken regularly. Most of our homes lack these elaborate measures and therefore, medicines stored in houses deteriorate in quality.
When kept under unfavourable conditions, medicines may gather moisture. This has many adverse effects, such as allowing the growth of mould and disease-causing microorganisms. Eventually, these organisms, when ingested, may continue causing ill health to the patients. Moreover, these organisms, with time, also break down the active pharmaceutical ingredients in the medicines to a level that will not have any effect in treating the disease.
Many of these microorganisms also lead to anaesthetic effects such as a change in colour of the medicines and sometimes even odour that makes the medicines unpalatable. This is already a waste of money for the clients who have to purchase these medicines again.
Storage of medicines in the house is also a proven health hazard to children. Infants and paediatrics who are still unable to differentiate food and medicines can take them at any time, especially when within their reach. This can result in overdosages and, eventually, death. Children have varying drug kinetics; that is why most of their medicines are dosed based purely on their body weights. Some may find these medicines sweet or flavoured and take them without supervision.
All medicines have adverse effects. These are undesirable effects of a drug that are related to its pharmacological action. Most of drug adverse effects become evident when the medicine is taken for too long. Medicines such as panadol or paracetamol are normally kept in bulk by most Kenyans in their houses for treatment of ailments such as headaches. When kept in the house, any slight feeling of headache prompts them to take the paracetamol. The effect of this is that the frequent taking of paracetamol will eventually mask the real problem or disease that should be treated because they only treat the symptoms. It will be too late when the real disease is diagnosed, and healthcare costs would be much higher for them. Taking of paracetamol over prolonged periods may also lead to kidney failure in later years due to the adverse effects of acetaminophen contained in it. It is advisable to seek professional care and advice in any slight illness.
Antibiotic resistance has become a major menace in therapeutics in this century. One of the factors steering this resistance is the use of antibiotics for ailments that do not require them. When we store antibiotics at home, we are prone to take them irrationally for things such as colds and flu or any ailments. This is a huge setback in the treatment of diseases that require antibiotics and thus making treatment more expensive for these patients as they have to eventually go through laboratory procedures to ascertain which medicines can be used on them.
Finally, with rising mental illnesses and depression, stored medicines can be used inappropriately to take lives, a sad state that I have witnessed in some patients who were rescued on time.
Patients on long term medication such as ant diabetics, antihypertensive, and also asthmatics, among others, should be taught how to store their medication appropriately and professionally. These are the gradual steps that would help in achieving universal health coverage in totality.
Pharmacists should take the forefront in educating their clients and patients on the safe storage of medicines at home.
Dr. Nyawara Sammerion is a pharmacist at Nairobi.