Take control of drugs, don't let them control you

Take control of drugs, don't let them control you

While most people resort to medicine to treat an illness after the symptoms have become noticeable, a friend of mine regularly takes pills as a pre-emptive measure. Following exposure to rain, even if it was only a brief shower, he'll usually take some type of cold medication, his thinking being: instead of waiting for a viral infection to set in, why not act immediately? This is something his mother taught him. So he keeps a stock of over-the-counter medication, like cough remedies and paracetamol, in his everyday bag and he also resorts to antibiotics at the first sign of a sore throat.

Someone I know from the gym told me that he takes a pill, a combined anti-cold and anti-fever formula, before going to bed every night. He said he often suffers from headaches after finishing work for the day, but admits that he pops a pill even if he doesn't have any symptoms since he believes this course of tablets helps him sleep soundly, allowing him to wake up refreshed and ready to handle another stressful working day.

The combo pill he takes was initially prescribed by a doctor who was treating him for an allergy, but my acquaintance now continues to buy the same drug from a pharmacy. I told him he should try options other than medication to fight aches and pains and stress. His view is that looking for alternative solutions would require him to expend a lot of time and effort, with no guarantee of success. He just wants the symptoms to go away and he finds taking this particular medicine to be very helpful.

Many of us resort to medication much too readily and frequently and we sometimes use it improperly. In a report released earlier this year, the Department of Medical Services noted that Thais take in excess of 47 billion tablets per year _ which works out at an average daily national consumption of 128 million pills. Total drug expenditure in Thailand has risen rapidly, from 36.5 billion baht in 2000 to 98.3 billion baht in 2008, with the average annual increase in spending being 15%. Although there are several alternative methods for relieving common pains and aches, people are vulnerable to the lure of over-the-counter medication, seeing it as a quick and effective fix.

Easy access to such drugs also encourages people to use them more often than is strictly necessary or safe.

Aches and physical discomfort are common if one sits or holds the same position for long periods of time. This type of pain can easily be relieved by simple stretching exercises, doing yoga or even going for a massage.

When we are subjected to stressful situations we often get very tense and this causes our muscles to involuntarily clench up.

The resulting pain can often be treated just by taking a break. However, some people simply don't know how to rest.

To me, "rest" can mean choosing to stop and do nothing at all when I get to the point where I have too many things to do at once. Or you could take a holiday and come back to work rejuvenated. And I mean a real holiday, a complete rest, not just spending time with family upcountry while still keeping in touch with the office by email or mobile phone.

Me, I prefer to take herbal remedies if at all possible. One of my saviours is an Asian plant called fah talai jone (the botanical name is Andrographis paniculata). An extract from its leaves is very good for treating sore throats and bringing down a fever. Even though it tastes awful (very bitter) and has an unpleasant odour, I feel much safer taking this than other, more commercial over-the-counter cures.

I do have recourse to stronger drugs, but only if I feel I can't bear an illness any longer. But for minor aches and pains I choose to go the exercise and stretching route. To stay in a good mood, I also choose _ if, that is, I am able to choose _ to be around people who make me laugh and with whom I feel happy.

Physical pain is one of the most unpleasant experiences one can have. But it is important for us to use painkillers and other medication in a rational and sensible manner.

So taking an antibiotic to prevent infection resulting from an accidental cut or surgical incision is more reasonable than using the same drug merely to deal with a sore throat. If you feel stressed out or depressed, it's better to seek counselling or other professional help than to self-medicate. Drugs don't solve emotional problems and can even make things go from bad to worse.

Get into the habit of using medicine sparingly and only when absolutely necessary.

Follow the doctor's advice regarding usage to the letter. Take control of drugs; don't let them take control of you.

Sukhumaporn Laiyok is a feature writer for the Bangkok Post.

Sukhumaporn Laiyok

Life reporter

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