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Nighttime view of Temple University Children's Medical Center Temple University Hospital in background, Kresge Hall (left) and Medical Research Building (right) in foreground Old Medical School building in foreground, Jones Hall, General Services building and Student Faculty Center to the right

OFFICE OF news communications

News Archive


July 26, 2011

CONTACT: Renee Cree renee.cree@temple.edu



Lawrence Ward of the medical school and Nima Patel-Shori of the pharmacy school counsel a patient on medications. Ward and Patel-Shori are authors on a new study that looked at the rates of and reasons for medication borrowing among low-income, urban populations. Photo by Ryan S. Brandenberg, Temple University.

Lawrence Ward of the medical school and Nima Patel-Shori of the pharmacy school counsel a patient on medications. Ward and Patel-Shori are authors on a new study that looked at the rates of and reasons for medication borrowing among low-income, urban populations. 

Photo by Ryan S. Brandenberg, Temple University.


Despite warnings about the dangers of borrowing medication prescribed to others, studies show that many Americans have used someone else's medication at least once in a given year.


In low income, urban populations, this rate was presumed to be higher due to a number of factors, including a perceived lack of access to health care and higher rates of crime and drug abuse. However, a study led by Temple researchers has found that rates of borrowing medication among this population were about on par with the rest of the country, defying the stereotype.


"The trend of borrowing or using someone else's prescription hadn't been studied in this population, as far as we know," said Lawrence Ward, the study's lead author and Associate Professor of Medicine at the Temple University School of Medicine. "The perception was that those from a lower socioeconomic background would be more apt to use ill-gotten drugs, and we found that to not be the case."


Ward and his team, including medical resident Shaden Eldakar-Hein and Nima Patel-Shori and Kristin Sherlinski of Temple’s School of Pharmacy, surveyed patterns of borrowing prescription medication among 641 participants seeking outpatient, emergency or inpatient care. Most of the respondents were African American (75 percent), had high-school education or less (71 percent) and lacked full-time employment (68 percent).


However, the vast majority of this group — 90 percent — reported having health insurance, and about 75 percent had recently seen their primary health care provider. Overall, 18 percent reported at least once taking a prescription medication originally meant for use by someone else. This usage rate was on par with the results of studies in other populations across the country. The researchers add that their results may even underestimate the rate of prescription borrowing.


"I think this helps to break some stereotypes, particularly in the way doctors view their patients," said Ward. "Just because patients are from a less affluent area, they are not more apt to borrow prescription medications than their more educated or more affluent counterparts."


The researchers also found that — similar to national averages — the most common reason for borrowing medication was simply convenience, and that the prescription drugs were most commonly obtained from a friend or family member, rather than via more illicit routes such as theft or from a dealer.


The most common drug borrowed from others was pain medication (74 percent), followed by treatments for anxiety and depression (14 percent), heart disease (9 percent), and infection (8 percent).


"The respondents either couldn't get to their doctor's office, or couldn't get to the pharmacy in a reasonable amount of time — so the thought process was, if they could get medication from a family or friend, they wouldn't have to wait," said Ward.


Ward cautions that anyone borrowing medications from someone else — even if it's very infrequently — can open themselves up to a host of health risks, including a delay in proper medical treatment, an increase in medication resistance and adverse drug-to-drug interactions.


The next step in Ward's research will be to study physicians' perceptions of the problem, to better understand to what degree they believe their patients engage in medication borrowing.


"We need to work toward better awareness of the problem," said Ward. "Many patients might not realize the risk they take when using someone else's medication. Doctors must recognize that at least 20 percent of their patients may be using another person's medications, and should regularly inquire about medication use and stress the dangers of medication borrowing."


The study will be printed in the August issue of the Journal of Urban Health. Other researchers are Stephanie Ward, formerly of the Temple School of Medicine, and Alexandra Hanlon of the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing. Funding was provided by the Temple University Center for Minority Health and Health Disparities.