Desperate Times: Should You Ever Share (or Borrow) Prescriptions?

By Robert F. Bornstein, PhD and Mary A. Languirand, PhD

Many prescription plans make it much cheaper to order a three-month supply by mail than a one-month supply at a retail pharmacy, so most of us opt for the larger amount. Of course, the road to health is often filled with detours, and over time our medicine cabinets become populated with an army of half-filled prescription bottles. Due to concerns about contagion, tampering, and mislabeling, pills cannot be returned or recycled. That said, medicines are pricey, and the sight of all those pills moldering on the shelf rankles many a thrifty soul.

People sometimes share their meds, but should you? Some things to think about:

Medicines don't age well

Once a medication leaves the pharmacy you have no idea where it has been. Pills are kept in bathroom medicine cabinets, steamy kitchens, crammed pocketbooks, and glove compartments. Ditto for salves, gels, creams, and drops. For the most part packaging offers pretty good protection from environmental hazards, but the bottom line is that you never really know how a medication's travels may have destabilized it.

The yuck factor

Any medication which requires an applicator that has been used previously has been exposed to somebody else. And think about which parts of the body tend to need gels and lotions the most. Couple this with the fact that many people are surprisingly inept when it comes to self-medicating, and the odds of contamination are pretty great.

In dire straits

All that being said some medications are very expensive. If you have access to a friend's unused pills, and you're really in dire financial straits, explain your situation to your doctor and ask whether it would be OK before you proceed. If the choice really is between no treatment or less-than-ideal pill access, your doctor may say it's alright-or refer you to some source of assistance for accessing the medications you need. And many physicians will help out by passing along samples they get from drug companies (not indefinitely, but enough to make a dent in your expenses).


Robert Bornstein and Mary Languirand are the authors of When Someone You Love Needs Nursing Home, Assisted Living, or In Home Care, published by Newmarket Press. The second edition, revised and updated, was recently released. Here's the link: