​In Vietnam, over-the-counter medicine poses serious health risks

Using non-prescription medicine without proper caution can lead to fatalities

A resident purchases over-the-counter medicine at a pharmacy in Vietnam. Photo: Tuoi Tre

It’s common practice in Vietnam for people to buy non-prescription medicine at local pharmacies, something that carries with it a serious risk of complication and potential death.

The recent death of a 22-year-old man in the northern province of Son La, who took 19 500mg paracetamol pills over the course of two days to treat a fever, has raised concerns over the dangers of unprescribed medication.

According to Nguyen Trung Nguyen, director of the anti-poison center in Bach Mai Hospital in Hanoi, the victim was admitted to the infirmary on September 6.

He was unconscious, had suffered liver failure, and passed away on September 9.

The instructions on 500mg paracetamol states that an average adult should only consume a maximum of six pills per day, Nguyen said, adding that the male victim had also had hepatitis B.

This type of medicine is common as a pain and fever reliever, and can be bought easily without a doctor’s prescription, he continued, before adding that excessive consumption can be dangerous, especially for the liver.

Paracetamol and other kinds of non-prescription drugs, also referred to as over-the-counter (OTC) medicine, can be purchased at any local pharmacy.

Users of these medicines are advised to have proper understanding them before using, especially in larger dosages.

This kind of information can be found on the instructions of each medicine or by asking pharmacists.

Residents should make their pharmacist aware of their medical records to prevent poisoning, allergic reactions, and other complications, said Dr. Nguyen Huu Truong, a senior doctor at Bach Mai Hospital.

There are still  problems regarding the sale of OTC medicine due to improper policies and management by the relevant authorities, Dr. Truong continued.

While only a certified pharmacist can open a pharmacy, several employees with limited expertise are hired as attendants at these facilities.

“The attendants often make their own prescription after listening to the symptoms of buyers, without asking for their prior diseases or allergies,” the doctor elaborated.

The issues can only be solved with tighter management by authorities of the sale of medicine, Truong said.

Residents should also be more attentive to their own health condition and should always read all the information about the drugs before using.

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