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Buying medicine off the street can kill you

Street medicine
You may buy something that looks like real medicine on the street. It might look genuine but there is no way you can really know

| Duresi's Odyssey

AUCKLAND - There’s no other ways to put it but bluntly – buying medicines off the street can kill you.

Here are important reasons why people should not buy medicines off the street, or from unlicensed shops.

The source of the medicine is unknown. It’s anyone’s guess where the medicines were obtained and it’s anyone’s guess how they were manufactured.

What’s in the medicine is unknown. In some cases, unscrupulous people put dubious things into so-called ‘medicines’. These can be toxic to the body and harm the person taking the medicine. 

In a worst case scenario, the person can die from poisoning.

For example, someone could be selling what looks like amoxicillin capsules on the street. They might look genuine but there is no way the buyer can know they contains amoxicillin in the right amount, or at all.

Many times, fake medicines look like the real thing on the outside but, when tested in medicine labs, they either contain very little, too high or no active medicinal ingredients. Sometimes they contain toxic substances.

A less than normal dose results in ineffective treatment. This means the person will still be sick. For medicines like antibiotics and anti-malarials there is a bigger problem - the bugs may become resistant to the medicine. The next time the person falls ill and is prescribed this medicine, it will not work to kill the bugs.

This is dangerous and expensive. Health workers will have to find alternative medicines that will work to kill the bugs. The treatment can take longer and may involve more than one medicine. It may also cause many side effects.

A higher dose than normal can be dangerous. People who overdose most likely will require immediate medical attention and end up in hospital. In a worst case scenario, they might lose their lives.

There may be no active ingredient in the ‘medicine’. Obviously if the chemicals needed to treat the disease are not present in the medicine, people will continue to be unwell. The longer a person is unwell, their worse their condition can get and other organs of the body can be badly affected.

Incorrect handling and storage. People who sell medicines on the street or in unregistered outlets do not know how to handle them. Medicines are special commodities and there are special ways they must be handled and stored. Incorrect handling can cause them to break down quickly and lose their ability to treat diseases effectively.

Incorrect dosing. Self-medicating is always dangerous because a person may be underdosing or overdosing. The outcomes are often negative and may result in more health issues.

If these matters don’t cause you to be concerned about buying medicines off the street and from unregistered stores, this may change your mind.

The quickest way for bugs to develop resistance to medication, especially antibiotics, is through using them haphazardly; that is, not exactly according to instructions.

Once antibiotic resistance develops, the bugs are not killed by the medicine. Things like a simple cough or a boil then will need a stay in hospital so they can be better managed.

Even scarier is that medical procedures like surgery will be greatly impacted because there will not be proper antibiotic cover for infections. It is my hope that PNG does not get to that stage.

We’ve all heard to multi-drug resistant tuberculosis in PNG – let us ensure that all medicines (antibiotics especially) on our country’s essential medicine list are used properly.

We need to protect them so they can continue to protect us – let us advocate to our family and friends not to buy medicines off the street and unregistered stores.

Bee Duresi
Bee Duresi


Ill-meaning people capitalise on the lack of medicines and health services to illegally sell medicines. Sometimes people in rural areas have no option but to turn to these places for their medicines.

It is a huge problem that needs to be addressed by the Department of Health and provincial health authorities to ensure health facilities are open and have the necessary medical supplies to operate.

Bee Duresi is studying for a PhD in Auckland, New Zealand


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