Middle-aged drug deals: the search for antibiotics

Over the last few years, as I’ve approached 40, I’ve noticed a lot of “middle-aged drug dealing” in my extended social circle. I started paying attention after an acquaintance posted on Facebook, asking if anyone had any old antibiotics in their medicine cabinet; she had an infection that was worsening by the day and had no health insurance so she was willing to take what she could get.

Tara Courtland

Communications Director Tara Courtland

Not long after that, I got a text message from a friend whose antidepressant prescription was about to expire. She asked if I knew anyone on the same prescription who could lend her some pills for a week — she couldn’t afford the time off work to see her doctor any sooner.

Then there’s the friend whose husband was recently laid off. They had signed up for Obamacare, but it hadn’t kicked in yet and so when she injured her leg, she borrowed a crutch, some bandages and some prescription painkillers. Asked whether it was broken, she responded that she didn’t know — she couldn’t afford to see a doctor to find out.

We hear a lot about the problem of the uninsured using emergency rooms for comparatively minor ailments, adding to the skyrocketing national cost of healthcare. But for those trying to get ahead, a trip to the emergency room doesn’t mean free treatment but an impending avalanche of daunting medical bills, which they will spend years paying off to avoid credit problems or bankruptcy — it’s not an option they’re willing to consider.

While the number of illegal prescription searches that cross my path seems to have decreased with the advent of Obamacare, I still see it with depressing frequency. The common threads are generally money and the amount of time and determination needed to access the healthcare system. A lack of advance planning and ability to work through a complex healthcare process sometimes contribute to the problem, but the fact remains that healthcare access — even among the varying strata of the middle class, is largely divided into the Haves and the Have-Nots.

I am admittedly one of the Haves and I can’t help but cringe at the difference between the healthcare experiences of some of my peers and my own recent experience with my concierge doctor.

While on vacation over a holiday weekend, I woke up with a urinary tract infection. An 8 a.m. Sunday morning call to the doctor’s cell phone was answered immediately. I told her my symptoms and the phone number of the pharmacy a block from my hotel. She sent in the prescription before we hung up and the pills were in my hand within 20 minutes of the time I had placed the call. I don’t know whether she charged me a copay for the service or not and I have no idea how much the antibiotics cost — it didn’t matter to me at the time.

The difference in our experiences is money and that makes all the difference when one is in need of medication in a hurry.

Even with health insurance, an hourly worker faces serious roadblocks in getting to the doctor. Hours unworked are hours unpaid. The loss of several hours of income can be a hard blow for anyone living week to week and that cost is added to the $25 or $30 copay for the doctor, plus the $15-20 cost of the prescription. Those who use the free health clinics avoid the copay and much of the drug cost, but that’s small consolation when they need even more unpaid time from work due to long wait times at the clinic.

It all adds up to a situation where a person in sudden need of antibiotics would rather take their chances on someone else’s out-of-date leftovers and a person knowing their antidepressant prescription is soon to expire finds it easier to borrow pills for awhile than to get their own renewal right away.

It’s all a minor problem in the grand scheme of healthcare issues, but every time I hear of another “middle-aged-drug deal,” I am reminded strongly that while we strive for improvements, healthcare access in America is still a privilege, not a right. Until we level the playing field, it is a privilege reserved primarily for the Haves.

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About Tara Courtland

Tara Courtland is the communications director at NEMT.
This entry was posted in News and stories, Obamacare and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Middle-aged drug deals: the search for antibiotics

  1. Brenda Hurley says:

    Great post, Tara. Your message was spot on. So many believe people without healthcare insurance are lazy and unemployed. This is just not true! Thanks for stating what needed to be said.

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