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Americans are taking fish antibiotics to save money

Published Dec 11th, 2019 6:35PM EST
fish antibiotics
Image: FLPA/Shutterstock

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Health care costs in the United States are, well, pretty insane. A decent insurance plan helps mitigate out-of-pocket costs for certain medications, but those with no health coverage can find themselves with enormous bills and no hope of paying them down. It’s a bizarre situation, and as elected officials continue to debate just how broken it all is, regular citizens are doing their best to save money where they can.

For some, that apparently means using meds intended for animals in place of prescription drugs meant for humans. As Guardian reports, a new research effort reveals that online stores that offer cheap antibiotics meant for pet fish are a favorite of some who take the medication themselves instead.

The study took a relatively straightforward approach to explore the likelihood of people using fish antibiotics on themselves. The team used readily available public information in the form of product reviews on websites. Many online stores that offer fish antibiotics offer customers the ability to write reviews, and some of those reviews reveal the true nature of an individual’s purchase.

The number of reviews of such drugs in online stores that mentioned the customer using them in their own body rather than for their animals was “small but significant.” The researchers suggest that the trend of using drugs meant for animals in place of prescription medications for humans is largely based around cost.

“Self-medication and the availability of antibiotics without healthcare oversight might contribute to increasing antimicrobial resistance and delayed appropriate treatment,” Brandon Bookstaver, co-author of the research, explains. “We were particularly concerned that the high volume of positive feedback on the comments about human use might encourage others to attempt to use these drugs.”

Making matters worse, it seems at least some of the online retailers selling such antibiotics are comfortable with the idea of their customers using them for their own needs, rather than for animals. The report notes that at least one retailer replied to a question and assured a would-be buyer that the drugs were safe for human consumption.

It’s a difficult problem to solve, but until basic health care becomes a bit more affordable, it’s an issue that will likely continue to fester.