Americans Are Taking Cheap Fish Antibiotics To Circumvent Rising Health Care Costs

There is a drug epidemic sweeping across America but it has nothing to do with heroin or fentanyl or even amphetamines.  Apparently, more and more Americans have been buying fish antibiotics, online, as a means to save money by avoiding doctor visits and paying for traditional [human] pharmaceuticals.  

For reference sake, pet antibiotics—including penicillin—are available for purchase online for as little as $9 (for a month supply of single dose pills).  At the same time, some of these drugs carried a price tag of $120 too.  But most importantly, many of these fish drugs were the very same antibiotics that are commonly prescribed to people:  amoxicillin, ciprofloxacin, metronidazole, sulfamethoxazole-trimethoprim, cephalexin, and, of course, pennicilin. 

Scientists with the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP) say they have caught on to this by finding reviews of these unregulated drugs for treating human infections on various websites.  As a matter of fact, the researchers bought some of the drugs available online in order to conduct lab tests and they found these were often identical to the drugs administered to human patients. 

These findings are alarming, of course, and has prompted experts to more readily vocalize how dangerous this practice could be. For one, antibiotics designed to treat fish are not likely to treat or cure any human infections.  More importantly, though, taking such small doses of antibiotics could, potentially exacerbate symptoms and contribute to bacteria developing antibiotic resistance. 

Of course, using drugs in this way—and without a doctor’s guidance and monitoring—could have far more unforeseen side effects with lots of unknown dangers. 

University of South Carolina researchers Dr. Brandon Bookstaver explains, “While human consumption of fish antibiotics is likely low, any consumption by humans of antibiotics intended for animals is alarming.”

So, yes, that means these drugs may seem safe at first glance. However, the researchers warn that quality control is not as strict with animal products and, accordingly, there is no guarantee these products contain safe ingredients that are listed on the labels. 

 Dr. Bookstaver adds, “Self-medication and the availability of antibiotics without healthcare oversight might contribute to increasing antimicrobial resistance and delayed appropriate treatment.  We were particularly concerned that the high volume of positive feedback on the comments about human use might encourage others to attempt to use these drugs.”