What should I know before taking any drugs?
The law says that you have the right to make an informed decision about which treatment(s) to have. To consent properly, you need to have enough information to understand what the treatment is, what its benefits should be, possible harms it might cause, its chance of success, and available alternative treatments.
Even after you have given your consent you can change your mind at any time. Consent is fundamental to treatment, and treatment given without consent can amount to assault and negligence.
However, if you are in hospital as an involuntary patient under the Mental Health Act (sectioned), you can be treated without your consent. For more information on this, see Mind rights guide: consent to medical treatment.
If you have taken medication before, you may know which drugs work best for you. You might want to write a statement saying which drugs have and haven’t helped you in the past, to help make the right choice in the future; especially if you are not able to make your wishes known clearly at the time.
You can do this by:
• making a note on your care plan
• using a crisis card
• making an advance statement (see Mind’s legal briefing The Mental Capacity Act 2005).
If you are worried about your diagnosis and treatment, and unsure about the advice you have been given, you could ask either your GP or psychiatrist to refer you for a second opinion.
Patient information leaflets
If you are prescribed medication as an outpatient, it should come with a patient information leaflet (PIL – usually folded up small to fit in the packet); as an inpatient, you may have to ask for it specifically. If you do not receive the PIL, you should ask for it from the person who makes up your prescription.
The PIL contains information such as:
- the trade and generic names of the drug
- the dosage and form it takes, e.g. tablets or liquid
- who should take it
- what conditions the drug is licensed to treat
- cautions about any conditions that mean you should take a reduced dose or not take it at all
- how and when to take it
- possible side effects
- the expiry date
- how to store it safely.
It should also contain a full list of all the ingredients, including the extra contents that hold it together as a tablet or capsule, such as maize starch, gelatin, cellulose, and colourings. This information is important because some people may be allergic to one or other of the ingredients, such as lactose or a colouring. Gelatin is unacceptable to some people because it is an animal product.
Getting more information from your doctor or pharmacist
The PIL contains only the most important information you need to know about the medicine and if you need to know more, you should ask your doctor or your pharmacist.
Many people would like to have the information about their medicine before they start taking it. You might like to make a list of questions to ask your doctor when your prescription is written, such as whether the medication will make you sleepy, whether you should take it with food, or whether you are likely to have problems coming off it.
You can also talk to your pharmacist, either at your local hospital or your chemist. Pharmacists are drug specialists, and may be more knowledgeable about your drugs than the doctor who prescribes them. They may be more aware of possible side effects, and also possible interactions with other drugs (this is when a drug changes the effect of other drugs you are taking). Many high-street chemists have space set aside where you can talk privately.
There is more information on medicines and their use available on the electronic Medicines Compendium (eMC) website.
Medicines Use Reviews
If you regularly take more than one prescription medicine, or take medicines for a long-term illness, you can go to your local pharmacist for a Medicines Use Review, in which you can talk about your medicines, what they’re all for, and any problems you may have with them. A guide to this scheme is available on the Royal Pharmaceutical Society’s website (see ‘Useful contacts’).
Drugs can have two types of names: their generic name and the trade names given by the drug companies (starting with a capital letter). If a drug is made by more than one company, it can have several trade names, but it always has the same generic name. In this booklet, drugs are listed using their generic name, with the trade name(s) after it in brackets, e.g. diazepam (Valium).
Drug misuse and the law
Some of the drugs discussed in this booklet are controlled drugs. This means that the rules for storing them, and writing and dispensing prescriptions, are stricter than for other drugs. Of the drugs discussed in this booklet, most benzodiazepines, zolpidem, and meprobamate are classified as class C drugs. Barbiturates are classified as class B.
If you pass on any of these drugs to relatives or friends, you may not realise it, but you are committing a criminal act and could be liable to serious penalties in the form of imprisonment or fines.