Perceptions in the community about the use of antibiotics without a prescription: Exploring ideas behind this practice

Keywords: Anti-Infective Agents, Self Medication, Prescription Drug Misuse, Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice, Pharmacists, Pharmacies, Focus Groups, Colombia


Objective: The use of antibiotics without prescription is common in Colombia as well as in other developing countries. The objective of this study is to explore the attitudes and motivations associated with the use of antibiotics without prescription.

Methods: Focus group sessions were held with residents of Bogotá. Different socioeconomic groups were approached to identify possible differences of opinion. A semi-structured interview guide was used to guide the discussion, with thematic analysis used to identify central themes.

Results: In total, 21 people, aged between 25 and 50 years participated in four focus groups. The results suggest that the use of antibiotics without prescription is common practice. The main reasons included barriers to access to prescribed medications due to limited health insurance. Even those with adequate access to health insurance report being willing to use a treatment without a prescription if they have confidence in its effectiveness. The relationship with the physician is important, but pharmacy storekeepers are also highly trusted. While some participants understood that antibiotics can cure infections but cause serious adverse events, several misconceptions about antibiotics therapy were identified. These included a lack of knowledge of resistance transmissibility among communities.

Conclusions: The results have implications for interventions aimed at reducing inappropriate use of antibiotics, highlighting i) how lack of access to timely care creates an incentive to self-prescribe, ii) the key role that pharmacy storekeepers play in the Colombian healthcare system and the need to include them in interventions, and iii) the misconceptions about inappropriate use of medications that need to be addressed by educational programs. These findings provide insights to other countries where antibiotics misuse is also a problem.


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