Access to antibiotics without a prescription is damaging healthcare 

Access to antibiotics without a prescription is damaging healthcare

Research from the University of Gothenburg has suggested many people in Sweden are obtaining antibiotics without a prescription, causing serious issues for the Swedish healthcare system.  

Practical philosophers and political scientists from the University of Gothenburg have carried out a large study aiming to understand why so many people are obtaining antibiotics without a prescription. 

The researchers are affiliated with the Centre for Antibiotic Resistance Research (CARe) at the University of Gothenburg. The study has been published in the scientific journal PLOS One. 

Access to antibiotics without a prescription is dangerous

It is essential that access to antibiotics is correctly regulated and limited. Too much access to antibiotics accelerates the development of resistant bacteria. Healthcare services are trying to limit prescriptions for antibiotics and are encouraging doctors to take a restrictive approach.  

However, there are many opportunities to get antibiotics without a prescription. People can gain access to antibiotics by travelling abroad, using foreign contacts, or ordering antibiotics online from pharmacies that circumvent national regulations.

“First we conducted a smaller pilot study, 18% of respondents indicated that they had obtained antibiotics without a prescription and 16% would consider doing so, which was highly concerning. Their motivation was often that they were unhappy with or did not trust healthcare,” said Christian Munthe, who led the study in collaboration with Erik Malmqvist and Björn Rönnerstrand.  

The researchers found a limited number of publications on the subject and most of these related to phenomena or pharmaceuticals in general. No study had analysed the issue specifically for antibiotics or examined why people decided to disobey rules that are intended to control antibiotic use.  

“We therefore went ahead with a large study using the SOM Institute’s Swedish Citizen Panel, with several thousand people who make up a more representative sample of the population as a whole, enabling us to examine the hypothesis that trust in healthcare plays an important role in this phenomenon,” explained Munthe.  

The researchers found that the proportion of people in Sweden who obtained or wanted to obtain antibiotics without a prescription was lower than the pilot study had suggested. Additionally, just under 5% of the participants said they would be willing to do so in the future.  

Researchers identify a lack of trust in the healthcare system  

The researcher’s findings suggested a lack of trust in healthcare may be causing people to obtain antibiotics without a prescription. This reason was cited by respondents more than any other explanatory factors, such as level of education and concerns about one’s own health. 

“Because we know that trust in healthcare varies widely from country to country, our results provide a strong reason for countries with trust rates that are lower than the Nordic countries to review the situation and put measures in place if it turns out that many people are obtaining antibiotics without prescriptions,” said Munthe.

“It is also important to consider the need to maintain and strengthen trust in healthcare when devising strategies to limit antibiotic use” he concluded.  

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