#LoveIrishResearch BLOG: Do you share your granny's medicine?

We are delighted to share this blog by Jennifer McCarthy, a 4th Year student at Kinsale Community School, who won the Irish Research Council award at the B.T. Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition earlier this month. Well done Jennifer! We look forward to more excellent science from you in the future.

Do you share your granny’s medicine? Do you avoid the doctor’s opinion and choose to source your medication from alternative sources? If so, stop!

My name is Jennifer McCarthy and I qualified for the BT Young Scientist Exhibition this year with my project entitled ‘Not What the Doctor Ordered: A Statistical Study investigating whether Cost is the Main Incentive for Self-Medication.’

I started with surveys that I devised based on the results and advice I acquired from my two focus groups. I divided my sample population according to the ‘Pobal Deprivation Index’ which categorises areas according to whether they are Affluent or Disadvantaged. I surveyed a total of 876 people in order to gather the most valid information that in turn would output the most accurate conclusions.

As part of my investigation, I included a case study where a parent from the school told me that she had bought Ibuprofen in Spain as it was much more affordable than buying the same thing in Ireland. She was accustomed to taking 500mg of Ibuprofen but by taking this Spanish medication, she was now taking 600mg. The parent found that, after taking this medication, she experienced bouts of fatigue, and her ability to carry out her daily activities were affected.

As a result, I decided to use High Performance Liquid Chromatography to compare the drug concentration in the Spanish Ibuprofen drug with the Irish Ibuprofen drug. From this analysis, I concluded that the individual was actually getting over 700mg of Ibuprofen from these tablets, which, as proven, was having adverse effects on her physical well-being.

From evidence gathered through the 876 surveys, I concluded that cost was the main incentive for self-medication in the majority of cases – as much as 70% of those I surveyed who buy their medication from the internet stated that cost was the driving force that encouraged them to choose the internet as a source of medication rather than the doctor’s prescription.

Furthermore, overall awareness towards the risks associated with self-medication is low. From my analysis, I highlighted that 49% of my respondents were not aware that there could be a risk in the potency of a medicinal product bought from the internet. This is a very high percentage considering that you never know what exactly you are purchasing from the internet, especially if there is no health authority attached that can vouch that the medicinal products are of high quality and suitable for human consumption.

These statistics highlight how vital it is that a person does not purchase their medication without a prescription from their doctor, especially if they consider sourcing their medication from the internet or from abroad. While it may seem to be a more cost-effective option, why consider cost when it threatens your health at the end of the day?

My overall experience at the BTYS Exhibition was very worthwhile. In the near future, I would like to pursue a career in science and pharmaceutics, and this gave me an insight into this world. To add to the great experience, I was awarded the prestigious special award by the Irish Research Council along with 1st place in my category – Social and Behavioural Intermediate Individual. I would encourage all students and aspiring young scientists to take part in this extraordinary event that gives them the opportunity to question things they come across in everyday life and express their interests in a fun and scientific way!