The project is the final phase of a three-year study aimed at better understanding how New Zealanders use and think about all types of medicines, and to determine if they are “life-saving or life-styling”, study leader Professor Kerry Chamberlain says.
Professor Chamberlain and co-researcher Helen Madden, from the School of Psychology at Albany, want to find out why people take alternative treatments and if they feel differently about them compared with pharmacological drugs.
The study, funded by the Health Research Council and the Marsden Fund, arose from Professor Chamberlain’s observations that the role of medication in people’s lives has become increasingly complex in the 21st century. He says this is due to the proliferation of direct advertising of pharmacological drugs, the influx of over-the-counter medications, internet-based medical information as well as the profusion of alternative medicines, natural remedies and dietary supplements.
“The study is primarily interested in discovering the meaning that all varieties of medications hold for people today.”
He says a more social approach to understanding attitudes and behaviour in relation to taking medication is important, given the huge investment by the health system. The government drug funding agency Pharmac’s community drug bill was $563 million for the year to June 2006, the latest available figure.
The potential for harmful impacts on health through misuse of medication is one of the study’s considerations. Previous studies have shown that overall adherence to medication regimes is only about 50 per cent.
Initial findings from the study’s analysis of 20 households – where a range of medication including prescription drugs, traditional remedies, dietary supplements and enhanced foods were used – reveals how personal identity, history, memories and family bonds are associated with medications and their use.
People with chronic illnesses spoke of the “love/hate” relationship they have with medication. In some households, the dynamics of family relationships are defined by medication use, for example, when one member takes responsibility for an elderly person’s drug regime.
Storage of medication – from pantries alongside food and alcohol to bathroom drawers and bedside tables – is another issue covered in the study.
Anyone interested in participating in the study can email Helen Madden [email protected]