Americans are taking fish antibiotics to save money

Alarming results from a new study show that people in the United States buying fish antibiotics online and consuming them because they’re more affordable than to go visit a doctor. The study sheds light on the high costs of health care in the country and how citizens are struggling to afford basic services.

Image Credit: Numstocker / Shutterstock
Image Credit: Numstocker / Shutterstock

A team of researchers at the University of South Carolina College of Pharmacy examined online reviews from 24 websites selling nine different kinds of fish antibiotics. These fish antibiotics could be misused by humans, namely amoxicillin, ciprofloxacin, cephalexin, erythromycin, doxycycline, metronidazole, clindamycin, sulfamethoxazole-trimethoprim, and penicillin.

The price range of these drugs is from $8.99 for a bottle of 30 X 250 mg capsules of amoxicillin to about $119.99 for a bottle of 100 X 500mg ciprofloxacin tablets.

Customer reviews indicate human use

They searched Google for websites selling fish antibiotics in the country and studied the websites’ consumer reviews, product descriptions, and publicly available comments. They also compared the price and availability of the drugs, and the number of likes and dislikes for about 2,288 reviews related to human and non-human use of these antibiotics.

The team found that out of the reviews, they looked at, 2.4 percent or 55 reviews showed that customers bought the product for human use. These reviews also received more likes from other users than regular reviews did, with 9.2 likes on the comment about human consumption of fish antibiotics compared to just 1.3 likes for those not mentioning human intake.

Further, the researchers found that in one instance, a seller even assured customers that the drugs are safe for human use when responding to a question.

The research, which was not yet peer-reviewed, was presented at the midyear clinical meeting of the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP).

“While human consumption of fish antibiotics is likely low, and consumption by humans of antibiotics intended for animals is alarming,” Brandon Bookstaver, a pharmacist and director of residency and training at the University of South Carolina College of Pharmacy, said in a statement.

Antibiotic misuse

One of the issues health experts are worried about is that these antibiotics intended for fish are available over-the-counter, while those for dogs and cats still need a prescription. If these drugs are readily available online and in stores, it could contribute to the increasing antimicrobial resistance. Also, it can lead to delayed appropriate treatment, which could endanger the life of the user.

The ASHP reports that consumers that seek cheaper and faster access to antibiotics are consuming drugs that are intended for fish rather than humans. Taking these drugs could potentially lead to dangerous consequences, including adverse side effects, antibiotic drug resistance, and treatment failures.

“What might seem like a less expensive, easier way to treat an assumed infection can ultimately have very serious negative consequences. Unlike antibiotics for humans or other animals, these medications are completely unregulated by the Food and Drug Administration,” Michael Ganio, ASHP Director of Pharmacy Practice and Quality, said.

Products that are intended for animals aren’t FDA-approved. He added that even if the pills look the same with those intended for humans, it doesn’t assure people that the medicines are safe for humans. Antibiotics should be dispensed only by a licensed pharmacist after the patient goes to a doctor for consultation and gets a prescription for the medicine.

Also, self-medicating with antibiotics should be reported to a health care practitioner or the physician as this may impact what type of antibiotic should be used for proper treatment.

Antibiotic misuse has led to what the World Health Organization (WHO) describes as “one of the biggest threats to global health, food security, and development today”. The WHO added that the misuse of antibiotics in humans is increasing antibiotic resistance, and many illnesses are now harder to treat, which includes tuberculosis, salmonellosis, gonorrhea, and pneumonia.

Resistance to antibiotics can lead to prolonged hospital stays, increased death rate or mortality, and higher medical costs. Worse, if there is no immediate action on this matter, the world is heading for the post-antibiotic era, wherein common infections can once again kill people, the WHO added.

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Journal reference:

Fishy Business: Online availability of fish antibiotics and documented intent for self-medication will be presented at the ASHP 54th Midyear Clinical Meeting and Exhibition, Dec. 11, 2019

Angela Betsaida B. Laguipo

Written by

Angela Betsaida B. Laguipo

Angela is a nurse by profession and a writer by heart. She graduated with honors (Cum Laude) for her Bachelor of Nursing degree at the University of Baguio, Philippines. She is currently completing her Master's Degree where she specialized in Maternal and Child Nursing and worked as a clinical instructor and educator in the School of Nursing at the University of Baguio.

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