Many teenagers regularly take painkillers and other medications without being fully aware of the potential risks and benefits associated with these drugs, an international expert has warned.
According to Dr Priya Bahri of the European Medicines Agency, every month, at least one in three teenage boys and almost half of teenage girls in Europe and the US take painkillers for headaches. They also take a range of other drugs to deal with health problems such as asthma, stomach aches and sleeping problems.
However, while most young people will use these medicines in the correct manner, ‘there is evidence of accidental or intentional inappropriate use or misuse', Dr Bahri said.
She explained that incorrect or inappropriate use of medicines can arise due to many reasons. Young people may be confused if they are receiving information from many different sources, such as their friends, families, healthcare professionals and the internet. They may also feel misunderstood by the professionals they come into contact with.
"Part of teenage life is starting to make your own health choices. The medicines that teenagers use most frequently and largely autonomously include those for asthma, and painkillers such as paracetamol and ibuprofen. Every month in Europe and the USA, about 35% of boys and 45% of girls use painkillers for headaches," Dr Bahri explained.
Aside from other common conditions such as asthma and stomach aches, research indicates that around one in four teenage girls worldwide are using some form of contraception, including hormonal drugs, such as the pill.
"In addition, girls may be invited to receive the human papilloma virus (HPV) vaccine to protect them against cervical cancer. However, public discussions in the media over the usefulness and safety of these measures make some feel anxious and confused," Dr Bahri insisted.
She found that overall, there is very little research in this area, but findings so far suggest that all healthcare professionals need to improve their methods of communication when it comes to teenagers, particularly when it comes to the risks and benefits of various medications.
Dr Bahri pointed to the HPV vaccination programme as a good example of this.
"There were several incidents in Europe of HPV vaccination-related anxiety attacks among girls receiving the vaccine. In addition, in many countries in the world, older children and adolescents, rather than young children receive various vaccinations and may develop concerns over them," she said.
She also noted that while research has shown that pharmacists are well aware of the importance of talking to teenagers about the drugs they are taking, ‘they tend not to'.
"It is vital that pharmacists overcome their hesitation to talk. They should start the dialogue and listen to questions and concerns. It is important to help teenagers to care for their health, while being aware of their vulnerabilities as well as their capabilities," Dr Bahri said.
She will be presenting details of her findings in this area at the annual congress of the International Pharmaceutical Federation (FIP) in India on Tuesday.
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