More than 86 percent of Mexicans take their medication by consulting "Dr. Google", the salesperson at the pharmacy, or relatives, friends, and acquaintances who are not necessarily health specialists. Anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving drugs are the most commonly consumed without a doctor's prescription.
Most of those who self-diagnose and self-medicate are unaware of the risks involved in taking drugs without the supervision of a specialist in the field, warns Dr. Teresa Nava, director of the Latin American Institute of Pain and Palliative Care.
In an interview with El Sol de México, Nava explains that non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are the most commonly used drugs by Mexicans without a doctor's prescription. They inhibit some enzymes in the body, prevent the inflammation process and reduce chronic and acute pain, but taking them constantly can cause collateral damage to health.
"Harmful situations for health can occur because anti-inflammatory drugs cannot be used for more than three weeks. There are some situations in which, under medical regulation, their use can be prolonged, but only under the supervision of a physician," adds the specialist in the treatment of chronic pain.
In Mexico, pain is one of the 10 main reasons why people go to the doctor's office or to the emergency room, many times due to age-related ailments. One factor that most patients do not take into account is their medical history, assuming that all medications have the same effect on everyone when this is not the case.
"I believe that the two factors that most influence people to self-medicate are their availability and the lack of resources for medical consultation or the most effective health services," he said.
The easy access to painkillers often leads people to resort to methods that worked for someone they know, using homemade prescriptions or combinations of drugs that in the medium or long term will cause damage to their health.
Unlike in European countries, the people in charge of pharmacies in Mexico are not specialists, but they regularly advise the population with medicines that they believe are convenient.
"Pharmacies should have more regulation regarding the quality of the employees so that they cannot suggest these things, since they are not people prepared in this branch."
Another risk of consuming painkillers without a prescription, warns Teresa Nava, is that it can delay a medical diagnosis or worsen chronic diseases; by ingesting any medication to inhibit pain, it is likely that the affected area or organ is not being attended to.
In addition, NSAIDs can produce psychological dependence, but not an addiction; addiction occurs when the patient does not require the medication. In contrast, psychological dependence in patients with chronic pain is recurrent because their emotional and sleep state is modified.
In the case of patients with advanced chronic diseases, self-medication is not an option. Those who are in the terminal phase usually have very severe pain that can rarely be reduced.
Generally, the treatment of these patients is multimodal, that is, several drugs are prescribed in low doses so that they act through different mechanisms and thus enhance the effect. This has to be supervised by a physician specializing in pain treatment who manages to potentiate analgesia without damaging other organs.
"It is always important to take into account the clinical evaluation of the patient, that is to say, what symptoms he/she has, explore him/her and make a diagnosis to know which is the best treatment for that particular patient; it must always be individualized, we cannot give a treatment like a recipe to everyone," Nava concluded.