Poor regulation, desperation, and misinformation, a countrywide analysis of self-medication and prescription patterns in Ecuador during the COVID-19 pandemic

Res Social Adm Pharm. 2023 Aug 29;S1551-7411(23)00363-7. doi: 10.1016/j.sapharm.2023.08.011. Online ahead of print.


Background: The rapid spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus during the early phase of the pandemic led to an unprecedented global health crisis. Various factors have influenced self-medication practices among the general population and unsubstantiated prescribing practices among healthcare professionals.

Objective: This study aimed to describe trends in the purchase and sale of medicines during the COVID-19 pandemic period (2020-2022) in Ecuador, by comparing them with pre-pandemic periods.

Methods: In this study, a cross-sectional design was employed to conduct a comprehensive analysis of 28 pharmacological groups, categorized according to the Anatomical Therapeutic Chemical Classification (ATC). Utilizing an integrated drug consumption database, the study examined physician prescribing data, medicine usage, and spending levels in Ecuador during the COVID-19 pandemic. The analysis involved computing absolute differences in monthly resolution, calculating excessive expenditure in comparison to previous yearly averages, and using Defined Daily Dose (DDD) methodology for internationally comparable results. Furthermore, a correlation analysis was performed to investigate potential associations between prescribed and consumed medicines and the number of new cases and deaths.

Results: In Ecuador, the average yearly expenditure among these groups prior to the pandemic (2017-2019) amounted to $150,646,206 USD, whereas during 2020 and 2021, the same groups represented a total expenditure of $228,327,210, reflecting a significant increase. The excess expenditure during this period reached 51.4%, equivalent to $77,681,004 USD. Notably, 13% of this expenditure consisted of Over the Counter (OTC) Medicines. The study also identified a remarkable surge in sales of ivermectin, which increased by 2,057%, and hydroxychloroquine, which increased by 171%, as measured by DDD.

Conclusions: This study highlights the substantial consumption of medicines by the population in Ecuador during the pandemic. It is concerning that many medications were sold without proven therapeutic indications, indicating that misinformation and desperation may have led to improper prescribing by physicians and patients resorting to ineffective drugs. Moreover, since the sale of these therapeutic drugs requires a prescription, poor regulation, and a lack of control within pharmacies likely contributed to such practices.

Keywords: COVID-19; Drug consumption; Ecuador; Ivermectin; Pandemic; Self-medication.