Pharming Them Out: Antibiotics

As an Alternative Medicine Specialist who, in a previous life, worked in analytical chemistry within the pharmaceutical industry, I am fortunate to have experience of both allopathic (conventional) and holistic approaches to health. I believe they both have their place and that any approach must offer us autonomy over our own health, in whatever way we feel successfully supports us. Whether this is allopathic, alternative or both, it should always be our informed choice. This post is not a criticism of conventional medicine, nor is it criticizing any of the medical professionals within the health service, or the health service itself which is a truly precious thing indeed. This is about the bigger picture.

Image: Public Health England/NHS

The sign above is in the window of my local chemist. Antibiotics are one of the most commonly prescribed medications and their overuse and current limitations regarding antimicrobial resistance have been agreed by medical professionals as having reached a crisis - Professor Sally Davies, England's Chief Medical Officer, recently described it as a 'catastrophic threat'.

I understand that this is what this campaign poster is trying to address but whoever the marketing organisation is that were brought on board for it have missed the mark. The tone of it is misguided. According to the campaign, we shouldn't be taking them we when don't need them, which ofcourse is sensible. But then we only know when we need to take antibiotics when they are prescribed by our GP or other medical professional. The poster implies that GPs are handing out antibiotics when a patient asks for them (which they don't) and that the patient is the one leading and influencing their prescription (which they aren't). We can't just acquire antibiotics when we want and consume them like sweeties. Or can we?

Some antibiotics are actively recommended over the counter by pharmacists

A few months ago I went into the same chemist that has this poster in their window, looking for a lozenge to help ease a dry throat until I got home after my appointments to my lemon and ginger tea. It's more than just a little intrusive for me to be gargling during sessions, so I was looking for something that I could have temporarily to hand in my pocket. The assistant showed me a menthol and fruit flavoured brand and then said 'But they're rubbish compared to this one which has an antibiotic in it'.

If the concern is the overuse of antibiotics, serious measures need to be taken to make sure they are not available over the counter and that pharmacists aren't encouraged to recommend them for minor inconveniences. Nasty infections - head to your GP. But chemists actively promoting over the counter antibiotics for tickly throats, no. When we are encouraged to seek the advice of pharmacists for small issues that may not require a visit to our GP, we are also encouraged to trust their guidance.

Is this campaign ignoring the ease and availability to which we can acquire non-prescription antibiotics? This should be a major consideration in controlling and minimising their use. When the overuse of antibiotics is a burgeoning public health issue, then it's time for stringent control measures on pharmaceutical manufacture for general sale and ensuring accountability for commercial retail chemists, and to stop stocking their products.

Thank you for letting me get this off my chest (or rather, throat). I'm off to my kitchen apothecary to see if I can develop a lemon and ginger lozenge that doesn't pick up fluff from my pocket.


This post is intended for information purposes only and not medical advice - please visit the terms page for more details. Please seek advice from your GP or a medical professional if you are unwell.

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