english.prescrire.org > Positions > Self-medication > Self-medication: too much confusion!

Theme: Self-medication

Successful self-medication presupposes a well-informed public and a responsible pharmaceutical industry — two prerequisites that are too often lacking, in France as in other countries.

Self-medication: too much confusion!

The massive outcry over self medication overshadows essential questions, in particular that of weaning the French off of too much medication.

The self medication issue is back on the agenda, after an official report recommended that the practice should be expanded in France. The main concerns of this policy are not public health and patient autonomy, but rather exploitation of consumers misled by advertising.

To guarantee that self medication benefits patients, the first step should be to withdraw all drugs with a negative benefit-harm balance from the market. Then, it is a matter of clearly defining, collectively and objectively, from the point of view of quality of care, what comes within the province of medical prescription and what does not; what should be covered by health insurance and what should not. Pharmacists should be allowed to advise patients directly on appropriate drugs that have a positive benefit-harm balance.

A policy of this nature would dispel a great deal of confusion. But it is also a matter of promoting an ongoing, comprehensive, patient-centred informational campaign, aiming to wean patients, their families and health professionals off of an excess of medication.

The French are the world's number-one drug consumers per capita. It is high time to start dispelling the illusion of a panacea and of the "cure-all drug".

Health is not always a matter of medication. While drugs are sometimes necessary, they are often useless or even harmful. That is what consumer advertising for an over-the-counter drug will never tell you.

©Prescrire 2007

Source: "Automédication" Rev Prescrire 2007 ; 27 (281) : 161.