The dangerous phenomenon of influencers recommending medication

The top product they recommend is an antibiotic that is used to treat acne and whose use should be prescribed by a medical professional.

On September 9, 2019, pharmacist Guillermo Martín Melgar opened a thread in his Twitter account (@Farmaenfurecida) to shed light on a situation that he had been observing for some time. Several influencers of fashion, beauty and lifestyle, with thousands of followers on social media, were recommending products to, among other things, aid with acne and breakouts. They weren’t talking about covering them with a certain foundation, what they were recommending were products that contained antibiotics. An example of this is an erythromycin-impregnated (antibiotic) wipes that should be prescribed by a health professional, that are used to treat acne and that should not be applied indiscriminately. They weren’t suggesting cosmetic products but pure, hard drugs. By the way, the General Council of Pharmaceutical Associations detected a few months ago a disproportionate demand for wipes, which shows the great influence these people have on their audience and how dangerous it can be to get into recommending medications when you’re not a doctor or a pharmacist.

There are also influencers who recommend an ointment to treat infections, an antiviral for herpes, an anti-inflammatory drug, a medicine used to treat ulcers and gastroesophageal reflux. 

“Recommending medicines on a massive scale is negligent because each person has specific characteristics and what can help one person can harm another. Therefore, medicines must always be prescribed by a specialist on an individual basis, and for that reason the advertising of most of them is strictly forbidden: to prevent them from being consumed without control,” stated Guillermo Martín Melgar. 

Taking antibiotic without supervision aggravates the problem of bacterial resistance

In the case of drugs with antibiotic, its consumption is crazy because it can induce to increase the problem of resistance. “Recommending an antibiotic on a massive scale is extremely dangerous because it can lead to it being consumed by someone who does not need it (for example, for the flu), or consumed without following the correct dosing guidelines. This may contribute to the problem of resistance. That’s why it’s so important for people to seek advice from a professional: to diagnose and evaluate whether an antibiotic is needed or not,” continues Melgar.

What do we mean by resistance? The pharmacist briefly explains: “Bacterial resistance is the ability of bacteria to survive the effects of the antibiotic through various mechanisms. This is causing them to stop responding to the effect of antibiotics, making them less effective against infections. It's as if we are going back in time before the discovery of penicillin.” This affects not only the self-medicated one but all, hence the efforts of the health authorities so that the population does not take the consumption of antibiotics lightly: it is not done motu proprio but by the prescription of a doctor, that the treatment is not interrupted when one feels better but that all the prescribed doses are taken, etc.

Faced with this situation, in which medicines are being advertised (it is illegal to advertise with or without a prescription. There are rules to be followed, including stating that they are drugs and if in doubt seek advice from a doctor or pharmacist), the General Council of Physicians and the General Council of Pharmacists have recently filed a complaint with the Health Service, which has contacted Google to withdraw this type of content. In the beginning, the focus was on the contents of Youtube but as you can see in the thread of Guillermo Martín Melgar, the recommendations are also made in the fashion network: Instagram.

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