One-third of Irish adults on long-term medication – survey

Health authority concerned over growing use of internet to diagnose medical conditions

One in four adults admit they have never read product information for over-the-counter medicines, and one in five have not done so for prescription only medicine. Photograph: iStock

One in four adults admit they have never read product information for over-the-counter medicines, and one in five have not done so for prescription only medicine. Photograph: iStock

 

One-third of Irish adults, and two-thirds of over-65s, are on long-term medication, according to a survey by the State’s medicines regulator.

Fewer people are reading product information about over-the-counter and prescription medicines, a trend that the Health Products Regulatory Authority (HRPA) says is of great concern.

One in four adults admit they have never read product information for over-the-counter medicines, and one in five have not done so for prescription only medicine. These proportions have almost doubled since a previous survey in 2010.

Men are twice as likely to have never read production information for prescription medicines. Among those taking long-term medication, 16 per cent had never read this information.

Doctors remain the most trusted source of information about medicines, but 15 per cent say they never seek advice from a healthcare professional before taking a new over-the-counter drug.

The survey highlights the growing use of the internet to source medical information.

One in four people - over 850,00 adults - say they go online for information about medicines and 43 per cent use the internet to access information on health issues in general.

The influence of online information has also grown, with 62 per cent saying the internet influences their choice of medicine or treatment, up from 43 per cent in 2013.

Seventy per cent used the internet to diagnose a particular health problem and 46 per cent to obtain information on types of medicine available for a particular condition.

More worrying, four in 10 of us say we use online information to diagnose symptoms.

The authority says it is very important that patients do not do this in isolation, and that they consult healthcare professionals. “The internet is a very valuable source of information but people have to be mindful about the quality of information they are accessing and it is important to access information from reputable sources,” said HPRA chief executive Lorraine Nolan.

While just 2 per cent say they have purchased medicines online, this equates to 70,000 people, she pointed out.

Buying medicines is illegal, apart from recent changes which have permitted the purchase of over-the-counter drugs

Two out of three adults say they are concerned about the authenticity or safety of medicines available online, and there has been a decline in the numbers saying they would consider buying medicines on the internet in the future.

Ms Nolan expressed concern at the declining numbers reading product information.

“We encourage people to always read this information and not just the first time that they take a new medicine.

“Significant details such as the contraindications or potential side effects can change from time to time so it is important that those on long-term medication consult the product information regularly,” she said.